Medium and heavy-duty vehicles account for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and oil use in the US transportation sector, polluting the air and contributing to climate change. The trucks and vans comprise only five percent of vehicles on the road.
The proposal comes amid a flurry of recent actions by Obama on the environment, including a new federal rule regulating small streams and wetlands and a separate rule to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes.
The administration also is expected to move forward this summer on its plan to curb carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, a rule Republicans in Congress have vowed to stop.
The long-expected trucks rule comes one day after Pope Francis issued a teaching document calling for the world to take action to slow climate change.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the new rules would help the environment and the economy, as trucks use less fuel and shipping costs go down. Foxx called the rules "good news all around."
Gina McCarthy, chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, said the plan would deliver "big time" on Obama's call to cut carbon pollution.
"With emission reductions weighing in at 1 billion tons, this proposal will save consumers, businesses and truck owners money," McCarthy said. At the same time, the rules will "spur technology innovation and job-growth, while protecting Americans' health and our environment over the long haul," she said.
Under the new rule, a best-in-class, long-haul truck carrying 68,000 pounds (31,000 kilograms) of cargo is expected to get at least 10 miles per gallon (4 kilometers per liter), up from a range of 5 miles to 7 miles per gallon (2 to 3 kilometers per liter) today, the EPA said. Vehicle owners would recoup costs associated with the rule within two years because of reduced fuel consumption, officials said.
Partly because of those expected savings, the truck rule appeared to generate less controversy than some of the previous regulations the EPA has issued on climate change, although the industry was still reviewing the proposal.
The American Trucking Association said industry generally supports the new rules, but remains concerned that it may result in use of technologies on vehicles before they can be fully tested. Trucks carry goods from produce to timber and oil, as well as packages from major companies such as Amazon, on highways across the country.
"Fuel is an enormous expense for our industry – and carbon emissions carry an enormous cost for our planet," said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. "That's why our industry supported the Obama administration's historic first round of greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for medium and large trucks and why we support the aims of this second round of standards."
Still, Graves and other officials said truck and engine manufacturers need time to develop solutions to meet the new standards.
The proposed standards would cover model years 2021-2027 and apply to semi-trucks, large pickup trucks and vans, and all types and sizes of buses and work trucks, officials said.
Once completed, the rules are expected to lower carbon dioxide emissions by about 1 billion metric tons.
The AP contributed to this report.