Tailpipe Pollution Standards Cut Sulfur Levels More than 60%

by | Mar 29, 2013

The EPA today proposed stricter rules on gasoline and vehicle emissions that it says will greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks.

The long-awaited Tier 3 pollution standards will require refiners to reduce gasoline sulfur levels by more than 60 percent — down to 10 parts per million in 2017 from the current standard of 30 ppm.

The EPA says the proposal will slash emissions of a range of harmful pollutants that can cause premature death and respiratory illnesses, including reducing smog-forming volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides by 80 percent, establishing a 70 percent tighter particulate matter standard, and reducing fuel vapor emissions to near zero. The proposal will also reduce vehicle emissions of toxic air pollutants, such as benzene and 1,3-butadiene, by up to 40 percent.

By 2030, the EPA estimates that the proposed cleaner fuels and cars program will annually prevent up to 2,400 premature deaths, saving between $8 billion and $23 billion in health-related costs.

The sulfur standards will cost refineries less than a penny per gallon of gasoline on average once the standards are fully in place, according to the agency. The proposed vehicle standards will have an average cost of about $130 per vehicle in 2025.

The proposal also includes flexibilities for small businesses, including hardship provisions and additional lead time for compliance.

Shell, Marathon Petroleum and the American Petroleum Institute oppose the low-sulfur gasoline rules and say they will create billions of dollars in compliance costs but provide few benefits. They say existing standards have already required steep cuts in the sulfur content of gasoline.

Health and environmental groups, however, say the rules will cut billions in doctors’ bills and improve air quality. Paul G. Billings, senior vice president of the American Lung Association, says implementing the gasoline standards would remove as much pollution as taking 33 million cars off the road, prevent tens of thousands of asthma attacks and save thousands of lives annually.

The Auto Alliance, a group of 12 manufacturers including Ford, General Motors and BMW, has said cutting sulfur in gasoline will improve fuel efficiency and help further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In a statement issued today, the alliance says it hopes to see a final rule that will harmonize federal standards with California’s low-emissions vehicle program, finalized last year. This would allow carmakers to sell the same vehicles across the US.

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