EPA Targets Sulfur In Gasoline To Save Lives

The Obama administration is moving to clean up the air Americans breathe, proposing new standards for cars and gasoline that the U.S. Environmental  Protection Agency says will “help avoid up to 2,400 premature deaths per year and 23,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children.”

Big oil responded by saying the proposed new rules would drive up the cost of fuel with “little or no environmental benefit.”

gasoline standards

image via Wikimedia Commons

The big target in the proposed rulemaking standard is sulfur in gasoline, which would be reduced by more than 60 percent – down to 10 parts per million – in 2017.

According to the EPA:

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, establish a 70 percent tighter particulate matter standard, and reduce 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.

The EPA said “the proposed sulfur standards will cost refineries less than a penny per gallon of gasoline on average once the standards are fully in place,” but the American Petroleum Institute offered a far different cost analysis.

“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,” the industry lobbying group said in a statement.

The API didn’t stop there, either: “Implementing the new requirements would actually increase greenhouse gas emissions because of the energy-intensive equipment required to comply,” API Downstream Group Director Bob Greco said.

For many Americans — those who live in California, where the air has become remarkably cleaner over the past few generations — the standards would be no big no big deal at all. That’s because the new federal standard would be right in line with what the Golden State has already done, the EPA said.

The proposed standards will work together with California’s clean cars and fuels program to create a harmonized nationwide vehicle emissions program that enables automakers to sell the same vehicles in all 50 states. The proposal is designed to be implemented over the same timeframe as the next phase of EPA’s national program to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from cars and light trucks beginning in model year 2017. Together, the federal and California standards will maximize reductions in GHGs, air pollutants and air toxics from cars and light trucks while providing automakers regulatory certainty and streamlining compliance.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • As Buckminster Fuller said – The people who let the sulfur go into the air are not in the sulfur business”. With more joined-up entrepreneurship we’d need fewer laws.