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Today, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to push ahead with regulations that will require the production of cleaner gasoline and impose fleet-wide pollution limits on new vehicles by 2017. According to a report in the Washington Post, the rules will mandate that the sulfur content of US gasoline be reduced by two-thirds, from 30 to 10 parts per million—a move which would add less than a cent per gallon to the price of gas, while having an overall environmental impact comparable to taking 33 million cars off the road.
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Federal regulations for cleaner-burning gasoline would bring the rest of the US up to speed with laws enacted in California 17 years ago, and with EU rules enacted in 2009 that require the sulfur content of gasoline to be less than 10 parts per million. With the US currently ranked 44th globally among countries with “clean, low sulfur gasoline contents,” (Japan and Germany rank 1st) the EPA is arguably a little late to the game. But the rules could still be “the most significant air pollution policy President [Barack] Obama will adopt in his second term,” according to S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.
The impact of a reduced sulfur content in gasoline is strikingly simple; less sulfur allows catalytic converters to work more efficiently, and the more efficient the catalytic converter, the lower the tailpipe emissions. The EPA estimates not only would the reduced sulfur content yield the equivalent of 33 million cars off the road, but that the reduced emissions would reap annual health benefits of up to $23 billion by 2030. Additionally, the Washington Post reports “the requirements also have the potential to cut major contributors to smog-forming ozone and pollution — nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, or soot — by 80 percent and 70 percent, respectively, according to the administration official.”
But the proposed rules have sat in regulatory limbo since the tail-end of Obama’s first term in 2011, having been met with substantial opposition from members of both sides of government and representatives of the oil industry. Some oil industry representatives have claimed that gasoline prices could rise by as much as nine cents per gallon, adding that the additional refining activity required could raise emissions overall. In a fairly spectacular statement to the Washington Post, Charles T. Drevna, president for the American Fuel and Petroleum Manufacturers protested that sulfur levels are already low enough: “Those remaining molecules of sulfur that are left, those little buggers don’t want to come out easily. We still believe that EPA has not demonstrated the need for this regulation.”
Bill Becker, of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies explained to the AP “we know of no other air pollution control strategy that can achieve such substantial, cost-effective and immediate emission reductions.”