WASHINGTON, DC, March 3, 2014 (ENS) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today finalized a rule intended to reduce air pollution from passenger cars and trucks by lowering the allowable sulfur content of gasoline and setting new vehicle emissions standards.

Known as Tier 3, the rule will take effect on January 1, 2017. It continues the transition that began with EPA’s Tier 2 program, finalized in 2000, in which EPA treated vehicles and fuels as a system to reduceboth gasoline sulfur and vehicle emissions.

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Traffic jam, New York City (Photo by Antonio Garcia)

The Tier 3 vehicle standards reduce both tailpipe and evaporative emissions from passenger cars, light-duty trucks, medium-duty passenger vehicles, and some heavy-duty vehicles.

The final fuel standards will reduce gasoline sulfur levels by more than 60 percent – down from 30 to 10 parts per million (ppm). Reducing sulfur in gasoline enables vehicle emission control technologies to perform more efficiently.

Tier 3 is harmonized with the California Air Resources Board’s Low Emission Vehicle program so automakers will be able to sell the same vehicles in all 50 states.

Under the Tier 3 program, gasoline cannot contain more than 10 parts per million of sulfur on an annual average basis by January 1, 2017. These gasoline sulfur standards are similar to levels already being achieved in California, Europe, Japan and South Korea.

New low-sulfur gas will provide “significant and immediate health benefits,” says the EPA, because every gas-powered vehicle on the road built before these standards will run cleaner – cutting smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions by 260,000 tons in 2018.

“These standards are a win for public health, a win for our environment, and a win for our pocketbooks,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “By working with the auto industry, health groups, and other stakeholders, we’re continuing to build on the Obama Administration’s broader clean fuels and vehicles efforts that cut carbon pollution, clean the air we breathe, and save families money at the pump.”

By 2018, EPA estimates the cleaner fuels and cars program will annually prevent between 225 and 610 premature deaths. Once fully in place in 2025, the new standards will help avoid up to 2,000 premature deaths per year and 50,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children.

The final standards will cut soot, smog and toxic emissions from cars and trucks. The Obama Administration’s actions to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gases from these same vehicles will also result in average fuel savings of more than $8,000 by 2025 over a vehicle’s lifetime.

The EPA expects the final standards to provide up to 13 dollars in health benefits for every dollar spent to meet the standards, more than was estimated for the proposal.

The sulfur standards will cost less than a penny per gallon of gasoline on average once the standards are fully in place in 2025, the agency says. The vehicle standards will have an average cost of about $72 per vehicle in 2025.

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Traffic jam and air pollution, Walnut Creek, California (Photo by Jerry Bradshaw)

“This rule is a huge deal,” said Bill Becker, speaking for the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, the association of state and local air pollution control agencies in 42 states and 116 metropolitan areas across the country.

“Every metropolitan area in the country will benefit from it,” said Becker. “We know of no other air pollution control strategy that provides as substantial, cost-effective and immediate emission reductions as Tier 3. It’s expected to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions – which cause smog and soot – by over 260,000 tons, literally overnight, at a cost of less than a penny a gallon. According to a NACAA study, that magnitude of reduction is equivalent to taking 33 million cars off the road.”

“Cars, light trucks, and SUVs are major sources of pollution that can harm the health of our most vulnerable family members and neighbors, including those who suffer from asthma, lung and heart disease, as well as those who live, work and go to school near major roadways,” said Harold Wimmer, national president and CEO of the American Lung Association. “We thank the Obama Administration and Environmental Protection Agency for putting these critical public health safeguards in place to protect communities across the nation.”

Michelle Robinson, director of Union of Concerned Scientists’ Clean Vehicles Program, said, “Finalizing these standards is life-changing for people from all walks of life. Every day, tens of millions of Americans breathe unhealthy air, and reducing pollution from our cars and trucks is a critical part of the solution.”

“Getting here took the work of a diverse coalition of science, health, environmental, labor, faith and industry groups and strong leadership from the Environmental Protection Agency to push the standards over the finish line,” said Robinson.

“It’s hard to imagine how anyone could argue against protecting thousands of lives at the cost of less than a penny a gallon. But the oil industry has chosen to do just that, asserting once again that its profits are more important than the health and welfare of the American people,” she said.

Luke Tonachel, senior vehicles analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “These standards will clean our air, protect our health and save money. EPA resisted extensive pressure from Big Oil companies to issue standards that will save thousands of lives.”

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Gas station, Cumming, Georgia, 2008 when a gallon of regular was $4.19 (Photo by LB)

While the auto industry, environmental and public health groups support the new standards, the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas industry group, opposes them.

“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,” said API Downstream Group Director Bob Greco. “But it will provide negligible, if any, environmental benefits. In fact, air quality would continue to improve with the existing standard and without additional costs.”

The API says the new rule could require $10 billion in capital costs to refineries, and carry an annual compliance cost of $2.4 billion, equating to a potential cost increase at the pump of between six cents and nine cents per gallon of gasoline produced.

McCarthy takes issue with API’s cost increase projection. She told reporters on a conference call today that it is based on “an outdated estimate.” Current estimates indicate the increase in cost at the pump would average about six-tenths of a cent per gallon in 2025 when the standards are fully phased in, she said.

But people will see immediate benefits in 2017, said McCarthy, with more efficient catalytic converters on the vehicles.

Automakers expressed support for the new standards although Tier 3 will require large investments by automakers. EPA estimates the cost is $15 billion over the next decade. This is in addition to EPA’s fuel economy and greenhouse gas regulations that require automakers to invest another $198 billion over the next decade.

Mike Robinson, General Motors vice president of sustainability and global regulatory affairs, told reporters, “EPA has effectively harmonized federal and state emissions requirements. That’s a big deal for us, creating one set of emissions standards nationwide.”

“We support the provisions for lower sulfur levels in fuels,” said Robinson. “Since the vehicle emission system and the fuel used act together in determining the emissions performance of the vehicle, automakers need cleaner fuels to achieve the lowest possible emissions. In addition, cleaner fuels provide the added benefit of reducing emissions immediately across the entire on-road fleet.”

“Automakers have already reduced vehicle emissions by 99 percent, and we’re seeking more progress while still delivering high quality, affordable vehicles to our customers. Today’s announcement links autos and fuels together, recognizing that our cleaner cars will need cleaner fuels to fully achieve and optimize the improvements we are being asked to make, said Mitch Bainwol, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 12 automakers with 77 percent of all car and light truck sales in the United States.

“Cars are so clean that we are now reducing the last one percent of emissions, and Tier 3 will take us three-quarters of the way toward that goal,” Bainwol said. “In addition, consumers will benefit from having a single program nationwide, harmonizing California standards with federal standards and avoiding the costly duplication of regulations.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2014. All rights reserved.