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EPA Proposes Stronger Standards on Gasoline and Cars to Reduce Smog

Luke Tonachel's picture

Since joining NRDC in 2004, Luke Tonachel has focused on reducing the environmental impact of the transportation sector. His work has encouraged governments to adopt policies that advance clean...

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  • Apr 2, 2013 3:00 pm GMT

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emissions regulationsIn a step forward that will help Americans breathe easier, the U.S. EPA proposed long-awaited standards to clean up gasoline and cut smog-forming pollution from cars and light trucks. Now the EPA should complete the process of making the standards the law of the land.

The oil industry, however, is trying to block the path to cleaner fuel and air. In an effort to protect every cent of their record profits, the oil industry is opposing EPA standards that reduce sulfur levels in gasoline and immediately reduce pollution. According to the EPA cleaner gasoline will cost less than a penny per gallon while Americans would save billions per year in avoided health care costs. Still, Big Oil doesn’t want to comply and is prioritizing their profits over public health and welfare.

Meanwhile, the benefits of cleaner gasoline and car tailpipes have built a groundswell of support for the new standards. According to a recent poll released by the American Lung Association, a 2-to-1 majority of surveyed Americans support stricter EPA standards.

Along with health advocates and environmentalists, the standards are also supported by labor organizations and emissions equipment businesses. Even automakers, which are subject to new tailpipe requirements under the proposal, favor these so-called “Tier 3” rules.

The EPA proposal announced tightens standards beyond the current Tier 2 requirements. Under Tier 2 refineries reduced average sulfur levels nearly 10-fold down to 30 ppm. The Tier 3 requirement makes a needed adjustment down to 10 ppm. Reducing sulfur in gasoline will immediately cut pollution from the current fleet of on-road cars because exhaust catalysts will more effectively reduce emissions equivalent to removing 33 million of today’s automobiles from the road, according to a study for the National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA).

Lower sulfur will also lead to dramatically cleaner new vehicles. With cleaner gasoline automakers can further optimize new vehicle combustion and exhaust systems to cut average smog pollutants by 80 percent from Tier 2 levels. If the EPA rules are finalized by the end of 2013, the first vehicles subject to the tighter standards will start arriving in 2016, as part of model year 2017. EPA estimates that the cleaner vehicle technologies (such as improved exhaust catalysts) could add about $130 to cost of a new vehicle, or for a $20,000 car, less than 1 percent. 

The minimal costs of cleaner gasoline and vehicles are far outweighed by health benefits for Americans. Cleaner gasoline and air will result in fewer respiratory ailments, fewer asthma attacks, fewer lost work days and fewer premature deaths. EPA estimates that the Tier 3 standards will save Americans up to $23 billion each year in health costs by 2030. EPA estimates that cleaner gasoline and vehicle costs could total $3.4 billion in 2030. Comparing the benefits and costs of the Tier 3 program shows us that the potential public health benefits outweigh the costs by a factor of 7. 

We can’t pass up these important health benefits. We need clean air now. According to the American Lung Association more than 40 percent of Americans live in areas with unhealthful levels of air pollution.

Stronger EPA standards on gasoline are long overdue and the oil industry should not be allowed to obstruct needed public health protections. Big Oil’s opposition is especially alarming when the wealthy oil industry takes home $8 billion in subsidies from American taxpayers each year. 

The Tier 3 gasoline and vehicle standards will save lives, save money and clear our air. EPA should forge ahead, collect public comments—the next phase of the regulatory process—and finalize the Tier 3 standards by the end of this year.

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