EPA Proposed Rules on Clean Gasoline and Tailpipes Has Supporters and Enemies

catlytic converterThe US Environmental Protection Agency just proposed a package of rules to make gasoline cleaner, along with stricter limits from the tailpipes of car. The rules are known as Tier 3, and are being supported by automakers, as they would bring federal standards in line with those of California. In California, gasoline must have a lower sulfur content to reduce tailpipe emissions. Here are a few of my thoughts on the proposed rules after reading about it:

  • The proposed rules are similar to the low sulfur, and later ultra-low sulfur, diesel standards that California mandated and that were later adopted nationally. That has gone pretty well, along with changes being made to diesel powertrains, producing what’s now called “clean diesel.” It might be a good sign that adopting these standards for gasoline engines could work out.
  •  Oil companies are objecting. Going to low-sulfur gasoline could cost tens of millions of dollars for the upgrade. Oil industry lobbyists have warned that a few refineries would have to close down rather than going through such costly retooling. Gasoline prices are going to come up to pay for it, they warn. Supporters of the rule argue that such a price increase won’t make too much of a difference, especially since new engine technology will save consumers more money than added costs at the pump.
  • The equipment would add an estimated $130 to the cost of a car but reduce certain emissions by 80% and, used nationwide, could prevent an estimated 2,400 premature deaths due to air pollution annually, the EPA said.
  • Catalytic converters are a big part of the rule – automakers want to see the same rules implemented nationally that are going to be adopted in California in 2017 for advanced catalytic converters.
  • The EPA says that reducing sulfur would extend the lifetime of a catalytic converter to 150,000 miles from 125,000, which would go over well with a lot of car owners who are tending to keep their cars 11 or more years these days. Catalytic converter makers like it too – in that it will bring them more business. Dow Corning and BASF have given the EPA the “high five” on the new rules.
  • Low-sulfur fuel would also help existing cars run more cleanly, akin to taking 33 million older cars off the road, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Association of Global Automakers.
  • The EPA’s proposal would reduce the sulfur content of gasoline from 30 parts per million to 10 parts per million by 2017, the same standard as Europe, Japan and California.
  • The New York Times took the EPA proposed rule to task for creating two potential problems:  hurting the chance of alternative fuels and technologies (such as electric vehicles) to have a viable chance of surviving in the car market; and adding more complexities and puzzlement to the byzantine layer of federal standards on vehicle emissions.
  • If the federal government does adopt these standards, they’ll be similar to the 54.5 mpg by 2025 rule – there would be no favorite fuel or technology. The goal is reducing tailpipe emissions and consuming less gasoline.
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