EPA Strikes Back at Sulfur Emissions

SAN FRANCISCO - MAY 07: A customer pumps gasoline at a service station May 7, 2007 in San Francisco, California. Gas prices reached a record national average price of $3.07 per gallon of regular unleaded, up over twenty cents in the past two weeks. San Francisco leads the nation with the highest average price of $3.49 per gallon.
National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
March 3, 2014, 1:38 a.m.

The En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency re­leased a rule­mak­ing on Monday to lower the amount of sul­fur in gas­ol­ine and re­duce air pol­lu­tion from auto­mobile emis­sions.

EPA pro­jects that the rule will slash at­mo­spher­ic con­cen­tra­tions of smog and soot by re­quir­ing re­finers to cut sul­fur con­cen­tra­tions by more than 60 per­cent in gas­ol­ine blends. The stand­ards also set lim­its on tailpipe emis­sions from auto­mo­biles.

“I’m proud to an­nounce that today EPA is set­ting clean­er air pol­lu­tion stand­ards for cars and for gas­ol­ine,” EPA ad­min­is­trat­or Gina Mc­Carthy said dur­ing a press call. “These stand­ards will re­duce pol­lu­tion. they’ll clean the air we breath and pro­tect the health of amer­ic­an fam­il­ies in a way that re­spects eco­nom­ic growth.”

Auto­makers and oil re­finers will need to in­vest in new tech­no­logy by 2017 to com­ply with the reg­u­la­tion. The rule re­quires cars to be built with clean­er-burn­ing en­gines and re­finers to use spe­cial equip­ment to strip sul­fur from gas­ol­ine.

EPA and the oil in­dustry say this will in­crease the cost of gas and drive up mar­ket prices for new cars. There is dis­agree­ment, however, over how much prices will rise. 

Mc­Carthy said the reg­u­la­tion would “cost less than a penny per gal­lon of gas­ol­ine on av­er­age.” In con­trast, oil in­dustry stake­hold­ers say the stand­ards could tack on an ad­di­tion­al 9 cents per gal­lon of gas

Sup­port­ers of the stand­ard are de­scrib­ing the reg­u­la­tion as a sig­ni­fic­ant factor in es­tab­lish­ing the pres­id­ent’s leg­acy on pub­lic health. 

“This could prove to be the sig­na­ture clean-air ac­com­plish­ment of the en­tire Obama second term,” Frank O’Don­nell, pres­id­ent of the en­vir­on­ment­al or­gan­iz­a­tion Clean Air Watch, said in a state­ment. “Without any doubt, this is the most sig­ni­fic­ant move to pro­tect pub­lic health that the EPA will make this year,” he ad­ded. 

All this has the oil in­dustry se­ing red. 

The Amer­ic­an Pet­ro­leum In­sti­tute, the largest trade as­so­ci­ation for the oil and gas in­dustry, called the stand­ards costly and un­needed. 

“This rule’s biggest im­pact is to in­crease the cost of de­liv­er­ing en­ergy to Amer­ic­ans, mak­ing it a threat to con­sumers, jobs, and the eco­nomy,” API down­stream group dir­ect­or Bob Greco said in a state­ment. “It will provide neg­li­gible, if any, en­vir­on­ment­al be­ne­fits. In fact, air qual­ity would con­tin­ue to im­prove with the ex­ist­ing stand­ard and without ad­di­tion­al costs.”

API pro­jects that the reg­u­la­tion will force the oil in­dustry to spend $10 bil­lion up­front to in­stall new tech­no­logy and res­ult in a $2.4 bil­lion an­nu­al pay­out to com­ply.

Not every­one in the in­dustry is bit­ing back, however. The Al­li­ance of Auto­mobile Man­u­fac­tur­ers, an as­so­ci­ation rep­res­ent­ing Ford and Gen­er­al Mo­tors, sup­ports the reg­u­la­tion.

“We un­der­stand that this is the trend, to get cars clean­er and clean­er,” Glor­ia Ber­gquist, the as­so­ci­ation’s vice pres­id­ent, told The New York Times. “Our en­gin­eers are pre­pared to work for it.”

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