U.S. EPA Raises Standards for Clean Fuels, Vehicles

Houston traffic
Heavy traffic in Houston, Texas, May 2012 (Photo by nickrincon)


WASHINGTON, DC, April 1, 2013 (ENS) – New rules to reduce air pollution from passenger cars and trucks proposed Friday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will soon be open for public comment. When finalized, the so-called Tier 3 standards would set new vehicle emissions standards and lower the sulfur content of gasoline starting in 2017.

The petroleum industry is opposed to the Tier 3 standards, while automakers, state air quality agencies, environmental and public health groups support the proposals.

EPA is proposing that federal gasoline contain no more than 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur on an annual average basis by January 1, 2017.

Houston traffic
Heavy traffic in Houston, Texas, May 2012 (Photo by nickrincon)

Considering the vehicle and its fuel as an integrated system, the proposed vehicle standards would reduce both tailpipe and evaporative emissions from passenger cars, light-duty trucks, medium-duty passenger vehicles, and some heavy-duty vehicles.

The proposed gasoline sulfur standard would make vehicle emission control systems more effective for both existing and new cars and trucks, and would enable more stringent vehicle emissions standards, the EPA says, explaining that removing sulfur allows a vehicle’s catalytic converter to work more efficiently and enables the development of lower-cost technologies to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe said, “The Obama Administration has taken a series of steps to reinvigorate the auto industry and ensure that the cars of tomorrow are cleaner, more efficient and saving drivers money at the pump. These common-sense cleaner fuels and cars standards are another example of how we can protect the environment and public health in an affordable and practical way.”

The proposed Tier 3 gasoline sulfur standards are similar to levels already being achieved in California, Europe, Japan, South Korea, and several other countries.

EPA is proposing the Tier 3 standards to address public health issues that exist currently and are projected to continue in the future as mandated in a May 21, 2010 Presidential Memorandum.

Over 158 million Americans are currently experiencing unhealthy levels of air pollution which are linked with adverse health impacts such as hospital admissions, emergency room visits, and premature mortality, says the EPA.

tailpipe exhaust
Tailpipe exhaust will be reduced under the Tier 3 standards. (Photo by Sherri G3)

The proposed vehicle emission standards, combined with the proposed reduction of gasoline sulfur content, would reduce motor vehicle emissions of nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, direct particulate matter (PM2.5), carbon monoxide and air toxics.

Compared to current standards, the proposed tailpipe standards for light-duty vehicles represent an 80 percent reduction from today’s fleet average and a 70 percent reduction in per-vehicle particulate matter standards.

Proposed heavy-duty tailpipe standards mean a 60 percent reduction in both fleet average and per-vehicle particulate matter standards. EPA also proposes to extend the period during which the standards apply from 120,000 miles to 150,000 miles.

The program would cost refiners about a penny per gallon of gasoline, and vehicle buyers between $130 and $150 per vehicle for Tier 3 vehicle control technologies on average once the standards are fully in place.

The EPA projects the annual cost of the overall program in 2030 would be an estimated $3.4 billion. In 2030, the annual monetized health benefits of the proposed Tier 3 standards would be between $8 and $23 billion.

Health Benefits

By 2030, EPA estimates that the proposed cleaner fuels and cars program will annually prevent up to 2,400 premature deaths, 23,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children, 3,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits, and 1.8 million lost school days, work days and days when activities would be restricted due to air pollution.

The Tier 3 standards would reduce exposure to pollution near high-traffic roads where more than 50 million people live, work, or go to school. The average American spends more than an hour a day traveling along such roads.

Bob Perciasepe
EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe (Photo courtesy U.S. Conference of Mayors)

Perciasepe said, “Today’s proposed standards – which will save thousands of lives and protect the most vulnerable – are the next step in our work to protect public health and will provide the automotive industry with the certainty they need to offer the same car models in all 50 states.”

The Tier 3 proposal is harmonized with the California Air Resources Board Low Emission Vehicle (LEV III) program so automakers could sell the same vehicles in all 50 states.

Tier 3 standards are aligned with and designed to be implemented over the same timeframe as EPA’s program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from light duty vehicles starting in model year 2017.

Together, the Tier 3, light-duty greenhouse gas, and LEV III standards would maximize reductions in greenhouse gases, criteria pollutants and air toxics from motor vehicles, while streamlining programs and providing regulatory certainty and compliance efficiency.

Throughout the development of the Tier 3 proposal, EPA met with representatives from the automotive and oil and gas industry as well as environmental, consumer advocacy and public health organizations.

Based on initial feedback from these groups and the rulemaking process, EPA estimates that the Tier 3 standards will provide up to seven dollars in health benefits for every dollar spent to meet the standards.


“These tremendous benefits come at a cost of just $150 per vehicle for Tier 3 vehicle control technologies and less than a penny a gallon for reducing sulfur in gasoline to an average of 10 ppm,” said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.

NACAA represents air pollution control agencies in 45 states and territories and over 116 major metropolitan areas across the United States.

Salt Lake City
Air pollution over Salt Lake City, Utah, January 2013 (Photo by heatherandchris)

“Reducing sulfur in gasoline to an average of 10 parts per million will result in overnight reductions in the effectiveness of emission controls on existing cars, yielding a reduction in NOx emissions of 260,000 tons in 2017 when the program takes effect – the equivalent of taking more than 33 million cars off our nation’s roads,” said Becker.

“We know of no other air pollution control strategy that can achieve such substantial, cost-effective and immediate emission reductions as Tier 3,” Becker said, urging the EPA to finalize the rule no later than the end of this year.

A NACAA study on the costs and benefits of Tier 3 reports that by 2030 this program will reduce mobile source emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide by 29, 26 and 38 percent, respectively.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers supports the Tier 3 standards.

“Automakers have already reduced vehicle emissions by 99%, and we’re working to go further while also delivering high quality, affordable vehicles to our customers,” said the Alliance, which represents 12 automakers that build 77 percent of all cars and light trucks sold in the United States.

“Our goal is a rule that harmonizes with California’s Low Emission Vehicle (LEV III) program finalized in 2012. Eliminating differing timelines, regulatory procedures and test methods at the federal and state levels will help reduce emissions and avoid extra costs to consumers,” the Alliance said Friday.

“For future progress, our advanced emission-control technologies that are necessary to meet the challenging 2017-2025 greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards will require cleaner, low-sulfur fuels similar to those available today in Europe and Asia,” the Alliance said.

But the petroleum industry association objects to the proposal, fearing that it would “raise refiners’ costs, provide little or no environmental benefit, and actually increase carbon emissions.”

American Petroleum Institute Downstream Group Director Bob Greco said Friday, “There is a tsunami of federal regulations coming out of the EPA that could put upward pressure on gasoline prices. EPA’s proposed fuel regulations are the latest example.”

“Consumers care about the price of fuel, and our government should not be adding unnecessary regulations that raise manufacturing costs, especially when there are no proven environmental benefits,” Greco said.

EPA’s Tier 3 proposal would increase the cost of gasoline production by up to nine cents per gallon, according to an analysis by energy consulting firm Baker & O’Brien that Greco cited in his comments.

“Implementing the new requirements would actually increase greenhouse gas emissions because of the energy-intensive equipment required to comply,” Greco warned.

The nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund is among those pleased with the proposed standards.

“The new Tier 3 standards will make our cars cleaner, and that means we’ll have cleaner air to breathe,” said EDF’s Mark MacLeod. “Reducing tailpipe pollution will provide healthier, longer lives for millions of Americans for less than a penny per gallon of gas. That’s why updating the standards has such broad support from U.S. auto makers, state health commissioners, and health advocates.”

Luke Tonachel, senior vehicles analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “These common-sense standards will save lives, save money and clean up our air – all at a minimal cost.”

“Big Oil companies want us to believe these benefits aren’t worth it. But that’s because they care about profits above all else.”

According to a poll by the American Lung Association, Americans support improved standards for gasoline and tailpipe emissions from new vehicles by a 2-to-1 margin – 62 percent to 32 percent.

Paul Billings, senior vice president of the American Lung Association, said, “”We support cleaner gasoline and vehicles standards. We will carefully review the proposal and file detailed comments to support the maximum pollution reductions. The American Lung Association will encourage the public to weigh in during EPA’s public comment period. These new standards must not be delayed. EPA must set the cleaner gasoline and vehicle standards before the end of the year.”

Click here for more information on EPA’s notice of proposed rulemaking.

Once published in the Federal Register, the proposal will be available for public comment and EPA will hold public hearings to receive further public input.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

Continue Reading