Environmental, health groups push for tighter car emission standards

Environmental and health groups pushed the Environmental Protection Agency to move forward with a rule they say would let the agency cut vehicle emissions of smog-forming pollutants by one-third while costing consumers just a penny more for each gallon of gasoline.

The groups want EPA’s upcoming rule to cut fuel levels of sulfur, which interferes with emission controls in vehicles, by two-thirds and reduce tailpipe emissions of nitrogen oxides, volatile organic and carbon monoxide by about one-third by 2030.

Such a rule would add less than 1 cent to the per-gallon price of gasoline and $150 to the cost of a new car, and the rule would save hundreds of lives a year and reduce lost workdays by more than 50,000 a year, said Paul Billings, vice president of national policy and advocacy for the American Lung Association.

“Those are dramatic benefits, a huge bang for the buck and a kind of regulatory certainty and efficiency the American public needs,” Billings said.

Groups have sought tighter standards since President Barack Obama issued an executive order in May 2010 asking the EPA to review whether existing standards were adequate, said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental group in Washington.

“We’re here to remind them,” O’Donnell told reporters today. “It’s time for them to get moving.”

The groups said today moving forward with tighter standards is especially important because the EPA assumed them as a way for jurisdictions to meet ozone standards issued in 2008 under the George W. Bush administration. The Obama administration is implementing those standards, setting an eight-hour ground-ozone level of 75 parts per billion.

The National Association of Clean Air Agencies, whose members include agencies in 51 states and territories and over 165 metropolitan areas, raised that point in a letter to the EPA in June 2011.

The environmental and health groups said today they were concerned that more than 125 million Americans live in areas that continue to struggle to comply with EPA’s air-quality standards for pollutants such as ozone. Houston and Dallas are among the nation’s 25 top ozone-polluted cities, according to the lung group’s 2011 State of the Air report.

But the Obama administration has come under attack from Republicans for regulations that they contend cost jobs and raise energy prices.

Obama said in early September he would shelve even tighter ozone standards following criticisms from Republicans and industry groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce. Environmental groups have since sued the administration over that decision.

The American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas trade group in Washington, said in August the tighter vehicle standards would cost $5 billion to $13 billion a year to comply with, force some refineries to shut down, reduce gasoline output and add 12 to 25 cents in per-gallon production costs.

“The administration needs to put its money where its mouth is and stop these out of control regulations,” Howard Feldman, API’s director of regulatory and scientific affairs, said in calling on the White House to reject tighter standards.

Sulfur in fuel is known to interfere with catalytic converters, which reduce tailpipe emissions of the smog-forming pollutants. Lowering the sulfur content of fuel from 30 parts per million right now to 10 parts would yield emission reductions “equivalent to eliminating over 33 million cars from the nation’s highways,” the groups’ report said.

The groups expect EPA’s rule to mirror updated standards that California is pursuing for tailpipe emissions. The state already achieves 10 parts per million for sulfur, the group says.

Existing vehicle technologies have been used to manufacture 2 millions of cars in California that are certified to meet the state’s current tailpipe emissions requirements, said Joseph Kubsh, executive director of Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association.

“That provides a solid base for expanding these technologies to all vehicles,” said Kubsh, whose Arlington, Va., group represents more than 40 companies that make technologies for reducing emissions.