US EPA proposes new car exhaust emission standards

The US Government has proposed rules to strengthen exhaust emission standards for cars, SUVs and light-duty trucks, and reduce sulphur in gasoline, beginning in 2004.

Under the plan, manufacturers would produce vehicles that are 77 to 95 percent cleaner than those presently being manufactured. The proposed new standards are designed to reduce air pollution, such as nitrogen oxides.

In a study released last July, the US EPA reported that additional emission reductions will be necessary to achieve air pollution targets, and could be achieved cost-effectively by coupling tighter exhaust emission standards with cleaner fuels.

The proposed rules, to be phased in between 2004 and 2009, would:

  apply a uniform exhaust emissions standard to passenger cars, SUVs and other light-duty trucks. The proposed new standard is 0.07 grams per mile (gpm) for nitrogen oxides, a 77 percent reduction for cars and a 95 percent reduction for trucks and SUVs. Vehicles under 6000 pounds would be phased in between 2004 to 2007, and vehicles weighing between 6000 and 8500 would be phased in through 2009. The current national standards range from 0.6 gpm for cars to 1.53 gpm for the heaviest SUVs and vans. Estimated cost would be an average of $100 for cars and $200 for SUVs per vehicle.

  require US refiners to meet an average sulphur level of 30 parts per million (ppm) by 2004, down from the current average of more than 300 ppm. The EPA is proposing that exhaust emissions and sulphur in gasoline are addressed together as a single system. Sulphur impedes the effectiveness of catalytic converters. Small refiners – those with 1,500 employees or less – would have an additional 4 years to comply, with the opportunity of an extension for those that can demonstrate a severe economic hardship. The EPA estimates the cost would be between one and two cents per gallon, or about $12 to $24 dollars per year per car.

The number of miles Americans drive each year rose from 1 trillion in 1970 to 2.5 trillion in 1997 and is expected to continue to rise at a rate of 2-3 percent a year. Sales of higher-polluting SUVs, minivans and other light-duty trucks, now 50 percent of the market, are expected to keep growing.

The EPA claims the proposed measures, when fully implemented, would reduce vehicle emissions at a level equivalent to removing 166 million cars from the road. The EPA calculates that the proposals would prevent as many as 2,400 deaths, 3,900 cases of chronic bronchitis, and tens of thousands respiratory problems a year.

The proposed rules provide for flexible implementation for the auto and oil industry to meet the new standards cost-effectively. For instance:

  By allowing car manufacturers to average across the fleet as they phase-in the new requirements. For example, car makers could manufacture a range of vehicles that emit 0.00 gpm to 0.2 gpm of nitrogen oxides as long as the average amount of the entire fleet remains at 0.07 gpm. US gasoline refiners and importers would have the flexibility to manufacture gasoline within a range of sulphur levels as long as the annual average is 30 ppm. The maximum amount of sulphur in gasoline, for purposes of averaging, could not exceed 80 ppm after 2005.

  By phasing in the standards. Beginning in 2004, 25 percent of lighter vehicles would be required to meet the new 0.07 gpm standard each year until the phase-in is completed in 2007. Larger vehicles, from 6000 to 8500 pounds, would also be phased in to meet the new standard beginning in 2004 until completed in 2009. Small refiners would have until 2008 to comply with the proposed sulphur standards. Small refiners that demonstrate a severe economic hardship could apply for an additional extension of up to two years.

  By allowing for a market based trading and banking system for both industries to reward those who lead the way in reducing pollution. As early as 2001, car manufacturers could obtain credits for later use for vehicles produced at or below the 0.07 gpm standard. Refiners and importers of gasoline would also be allowed to generate, bank, and trade sulphur credits that they could either use in a later year or sell to another refiner. This proposal allows companies to gain credits for early pollution reductions.

The US government claims the projected costs of meeting the standard – about $100 for cars, $200 for light-duty trucks, and between one and two cents per gallon of gasoline – would be outweighed by the

projected public health benefits.

While generally welcoming the EPA’s clean air targets, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers proposed a study in 2004 on the feasibility of meeting the targets and called for “some flexibility” to allow for the invention of the technologies needed to meet the standards.

However, The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) criticised the US EPA’s proposed standards, saying they would extend pollution breaks for light trucks and diesel engines.

Though the UCS greeted the EPA’s proposals as a step in the right direction, it is concerned that the proposal gives SUVs, mini-vans, and pick-ups 10 years to lower pollution to levels the UCS say could be met today. Using existing technology, California pollution control engineers modified a Ford Expedition and showed that it could meet the proposed standards even under “work truck” conditions.

The UCS also criticised the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers’ counterproposal, saying it would stall tighter pollution standards for several more years, provide the escape hatch of a so-called independent body review, and put the fate of the program in the hands of an uncooperative oil industry. UCS estimates that the average new vehicle would emit 40 percent more of the smog-forming pollutant nitrogen oxide over the next decade if the Alliance’s proposal is adopted.

“The 100 million Americans living in areas with chronic smog should not have to wait 10 years for cleaner air,” said Michelle Robinson, Senior Advocate for UCS’s Transportation Program. “And if the auto industry gets its way the public may never get the auto pollution relief they deserve.”

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