The Clinton administration has approved new regulations that are expected to cut air pollution from heavy-duty trucks and buses by more than 90 percent over the next decade.
Attacking one of the major sources of dirty air, the federal standards will require new large trucks and buses to meet stringent tailpipe emission limits and direct refiners to produce virtually sulfur-free diesel fuel.
The rules were announced today by the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency as part of a flurry of regulations being churned out in the last days of the Clinton administration and crafted to head off challenge by an incoming Bush administration.
”Today’s action will dramatically cut harmful air pollution,” EPA Administrator Carol Browner said at a news conference announcing the new rules.
President Clinton, in a statement, said the new emission controls “will prevent not only the thick plumes of diesel exhaust all too familiar to motorists, but also thousands of cases of respiratory illness and premature deaths.”
Republicans Criticize Rules
While President-elect Bush has not expressed any views on the truck rules, some Republicans in Congress have criticized the new sulfur requirements for diesel fuel.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., has vowed to push legislation that would roll back the diesel rule next year, arguing the requirements could lead to fuel shortages.
Browner said she hoped the incoming Bush administration would not delay the new requirements, which begin to go into effect in 2006.
Environmentalists, who have eagerly awaited the EPA truck and diesel regulations since they were proposed last May, expressed doubt they would be overturned given the widespread public sentiment against trucks belching black smoke from their smokestacks.
“This is the biggest vehicle pollution news since the removal of lead from gasoline,” said Richard Kassel, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and head of a campaign to reduce truck pollution.
The rules apply to new trucks and replacement truck engines sold beginning in late 2006. It is expected to take at least a decade beyond that for the cleaner trucks to replace most of the current fleet. Still, the pollution reductions eventually will be equal to removing 13 million trucks from the road, according to various estimates.
To meet the more stringent emission standards, heavy-duty trucks will, for the first time, be equipped with pollution controls that capture exhaust chemicals—similar to the catalytic devices that have been required on cars for years.
At the same time, 80 percent of the diesel fuel sold nationwide will have to be virtually sulfur free — on average 15 parts per million of sulfur—by 2006.
All diesel will have to meet the new requirement by 2010.
EPA officials have maintained that the ultra-low sulfur diesel is essential for the new pollution control equipment to work properly.
The new standards anticipate about a 95 percent reduction of smog-causing nitrogen oxide, compared to levels already expected to be achieved from trucks by 2004, and a 90 percent reduction in microscopic soot.
Diesel soot, which has been associated with increased asthma, bronchitis and heart disease, as well as possibly cancer, has been of special concern to health specialists. A recent study at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found a link between exposure to microscopic soot and death rates in 20 large cities.
Industry Questions Move
But oil companies and truck engine manufacturers have questioned whether they can meet the EPA’s timetable for both the cleaner truck engines and the fuel.
“These are unprecedented standards,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, an industry group. “The kind of levels of reductions that are being talked about are going to require technology that is not commercially available yet.”
The American Petroleum Institute cited a study said the new sulfur requirements would boost diesel prices by at least 15 cents a gallon and cause “a significant risk of [fuel] shortages” by 2007. The EPA has estimated the additional cost at less than 5 cents a gallon with no expected shortages.
The new 15 parts per million sulfur level compares to an average 500 parts per million in today’s fuel. Oil companies have argued that reduction may not be technically possible and urged a cut to 50 parts per million.