March 28, 2013

Obama administration moves ahead with sweeping rules requiring cleaner gasoline

From: The Washington Post

By Juliet Eilperin

The Environmental Protection Agency will move ahead Friday with rules requiring cleaner gasoline and cars nationwide, despite fierce protests from the oil industry and some conservative Democrats, according to several individuals briefed on the matter.

The proposed rules — which had been stuck in regulatory limbo since December 2011 in the face of intense political opposition — would cut the amount of sulfur in U.S. gasoline by two-thirds and impose fleetwide pollution limits on new vehicles by 2017.

The regulation enjoys support from auto companies, state regulators, environmental groups and equipment manufacturers. But oil industry officials and their congressional allies argue the proposed standards would raise gasoline prices and could result in greater carbon dioxide emissions because they will spur additional refining activity.

Opponents estimate the standards would force refiners to spend $10 billion to upgrade their facilities and an additional $2.4 billion in annual operating costs, adding 6 to 9 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas. Public health advocates say the ultimate cost would amount to less than a penny per gallon because of provisions giving refiners flexibility in complying with the standards.

S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said the new standard could be “the most significant air pollution policy President Obama will adopt in his second term.”

“There is not another air pollution control strategy that we know of that will produce as substantial, cost-effective and expeditious emissions reductions,” he said, adding that studies show it would produce up to $6 billion in annual health benefits by 2020 and up to $11 billion by 2030.

Once enacted, the requirements will be equivalent to taking 33 million cars off the roads. They have the potential to cut to major contributors to smog-forming ozone — nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds — by nearly 60 percent and 28 percent, respectively.

Automakers have lobbied in favor of the rule, which would lower the sulfur content of gas from 30 to 10 parts per million, because sulfur undermines the effectiveness of catalytic converters and increases tailpipe emissions. Because car companies must already meet stricter emissions standards in California, cleaner fuel nationwide will make it easier to meet their state and federal obligations.

Charles T. Drevna, president for the American Fuel and Petroleum Manufacturers, questioned why automakers would insist on punishing “the rest of the gas-buying public” when a quarter of their fleet already meets the tougher standards.

U.S. refiners have reduced gasoline sulfur nearly 90 percent since 2004, from 300 to 30 parts per million.

“Those remaining molecules of sulfur that are left, those little buggers don’t want to come out easily,” Drevna said, saying the EPA is not obligated under the Clean Air Act to reduce the sulfur content of gas further. “This is an all cost and no benefit regulation.”

But environmentalists and public health advocates said it is particularly important for more than a third of Americans living in communities that do not meet federal air quality standards. In Washington, for example, two-thirds of the nitrogen oxide pollution stems from passenger vehicles.

Dozens of Republicans, along with 16 Democrats in the House and five in the Senate, have appealed to the White House in recent days to delay the proposal for a year. In a call with reporters Thursday, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) said that if the EPA believes new requirements are justified, “then they shouldn’t be afraid to lay their cards on the table.”

Although the administration made some provisions for flexibility in the rule — providing a three-year delay for small refiners, for example — they are unlikely to satisfy Obama’s critics.

“They only amount to a stay of execution for the U.S. refining industry,” said Stephen Brown, vice president of government relations for Tesoro, a refiner and marketer of petroleum products.

Clean Air Watch President Frank O’Donnell said the move shows Obama “is willing to stand up to the oil industry — especially now that the election’s over.”

No Comments »

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Name not required for anonymous comments. Email is optional and will not be published.