US EPA to keep diesel sulphur reduction proposal, despite industry protests

The new US Environmental Protection Agency’s Administrator has announced that it will move forward on schedule with the Clinton Administration’s proposal to make heavy-duty trucks and buses run cleaner, despite condemnation from the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA).

Christie Whitman announced on 28 February that the proposal introduced by her predecessor, Carol M. Browner, requiring a 97% reduction in the sulphur content of highway diesel fuel from its current level of 500 parts per million to 15 parts per million, will be introduced. This will enable new vehicles, which will be ready by 2007, to cut pollution by 95%, she said.

Once this action is fully implemented, 2.6 million tonnes of smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions will be reduced each year and soot, recently named as the second biggest contributor to greenhouse gases (see related story) will be reduced by 110,000 tons a year. This will save an estimated 8,300 premature deaths, 5,500 cases of chronic bronchitis and 17,600 cases of acute bronchitis in children, the EPA says. It is also estimated to help avoid more than 360,000 asthma attacks and 386,000 cases of respiratory symptoms in asthmatic children every year, it says.

Significant lead time is provided in the rule for the introduction of new cleaner fuel into the marketplace, with engine manufacturers having a phase-in approach between 2007 and 2010. The fuel provision will go into effect in June 2006 and will be phased-in through 2009. The programme also includes additional time for some refiners and special provisions for small refiners.

However, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA) said that the rule was “unworkable in its current form and will result in significant shortages of diesel fuel”. In 1999, the organisation used the same argument against proposed reductions of sulphur levels in petrol (see related story). “The only way to address this fact and to remove the resulting cloud of uncertainty surrounding the rule is to revise it,” the NPRA said. “Accordingly, NPRA will continue to pursue vigorously the legal action it has filed in federal court to require EPA to revise this rule into a more balanced and workable form. We expect others to join that litigation in the near future.”

“The Bush Administration is determined that this action not be delayed in order to protect public health and the environment,” Whitman said, announcing the proposal as a rule. “I look forward to working with state and local governments to meet their air quality goals as well as with citizens and businesses to ensure that diesel trucks and buses remain a viable and important part of the nation’s economy.”

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