US public willing to pay for diesel clean-up

As the US EPA begins consultation on requirements to reduce emissions from diesel-fuelled trucks and buses, a survey has revealed that the vast majority of Americans believe an extra four cents a gallon is a reasonable price to pay for cleaner diesel.

While the EPA estimates the cost of cleaner diesel fuel at 3-4 cents extra per gallon, the survey shows that 85% of respondents believe up to 4 cents a gallon is a reasonable price to pay for cleaner diesel that would significantly reduce pollution. What’s more, 50% of respondents would accept an increased price of up to 7 cents a gallon.

The survey also found that nearly seven of 10 believe that cleaner diesel fuel and stricter diesel vehicle standards should be required within less than five years. Almost nine out of 10 people say that large diesel trucks and buses should be required to use the best available pollution control technology.

The public health and environmental groups released the survey results as the US EPA begins a series of hearings on a plan to require a sweeping clean-up of big diesel trucks and buses. Last month, the EPA proposed a 97% reduction in the sulphur content of diesel fuel along with higher emissions standards for heavy vehicle engines. Together, the measures are designed to cut emissions from heavy trucks and buses by to up 95% (see related story).

Like last year’s proposal for cleaning emissions from cars (see related story), the programme requires US diesel truck and bus manufacturers to improve emissions by installing pollution control devices such as catalytic converters. The reduction in sulphur is required because sulphur damages these converters, preventing them from removing pollutants from the fuel.

The results of the survey, carried out for the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense and the Clean Air Trust are likely to dismay the US petroleum industry who will have to foot the bill for the proposed clean-up regulations.

The National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA) has already said the EPA’s proposal could reduce the supply of diesel fuel, heating oil and even petrol (see related story), a claim the organisation reiterated when contacted by edie: “On its face, the survey results would likely be viewed by our members as good news, as the suggestion that the public would support the associated cost increase – which we believe is higher at six cents a gallon or more – is hopeful,” said Urvan Sternfels, NPRA President. “However, we have noted severe customer resistance to increases in clean gasoline in the past, and believe that view has not been diminished, as evidenced by the current furor in the midwestern US today, and in the northeast late last winter respecting heating oil and diesel.

“Those problems involving higher retail prices stem from supply concerns and we are especially fearful that the proposed diesel rules, coupled with other contemporaneous rules will result in serious shortfalls of supply of diesel – with the likelihood of significant price volatility for an extended period until supply and demand reach equilibrium in up to four years time.”

The EPA has estimated the new standards would cost the oil industry about $3.5 billion over the next six years. However, over three-quarters of survey respondents agree this amount is just right (60%) or too little (18%). Only 13% believe EPA is asking the oil industry to spend too much.

The survey found that 87% of respondents believe that 18-wheeler trucks, buses and other large diesel vehicles should be required to use the best available pollution control technology even though it will cost the owners of these vehicles more money. Only 10% disagree.

The survey also suggests the public want truck manufacturers to introduce pollution prevention technology sooner than the 2007 deadline imposed by the EPA. 69% want cleaner diesel fuel and tighter truck pollution standards to be phased in within the next five years. Only six percent favour introduction after more than a decade has elapsed.

“People know the oil companies are raking in huge profits, and they want a small portion of these profits spent to protect our health rather than simply going to stockholders or highly-paid corporate executives,” said Frank O’Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust. “ExxonMobil made enough in profits in the first three months of this year alone to virtually pay for the entire cleanup, while its chairman and CEO is making more than $25 million a year.”

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