The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today a proposal for new standards for cars and gasoline, causing a backlash by the oil industry, which claims the change will cost drivers even more at the pump.
The new nationwide standards for gasoline, which still have to go through public comment, will cut sulfur in gasoline by two-thirds, from 30 parts per million to 10 ppm. It will also reduce smog-causing tailpipe emissions by 80 percent.
The American oil industry argues that the Obama administration is "moving the goal posts."
"They're piling on some other rules and regulations, too, that could be extremely costly for business and certainly for consumers," Rayola Dougher, senior economic advisor for the American Petroleum Institute (API), told ABC News. "And moving this goal post from 30 to 10 is very costly."
The API argues that the move could mean as much as a 10-cent increase per gallon of gas for customers at the pump, and that Big Oil and the nation's drivers cannot afford to pay even a penny more to further reduce the amount of air-polluting sulfur in gasoline. But with net profits of more than $300 billion over the last five years, ABC News asked why the petroleum industry could not afford a 1- to 10-cent per-gallon increase.
"We do earn profits and those profits go to our shareholders, which are tens of millions of Americans," Dougher said.
Bob Perciasepe, acting EPA administrator, told ABC News that the oil industry has not analyzed the EPA's newest proposal, but instead is looking at a proposal the agency made last year.
"We're very confident that we are going to be in the one-penny-a-gallon range, and that is a tremendous bargain when you look at the $23 billion in health benefits as this program gets implemented," Perciasepe said.
The changes would lead to more than 2,000 premature deaths avoided, as well as 23,000 respiratory symptoms in children and 3,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits avoided, according to Perciasepe.
"We're going to be looking at significant health benefits," he said. "We're going to be looking at a way to help the automobile industry continue their march to modern technology and an improved automobile product for the American public."
For residents of Bakersfield, Calif., the nation's most polluted city, the effects of living with smog can be felt first-hand.
"Just being up on the bluffs looking down, you can see all the pollution," Patricia Johnson, a resident, said. "It makes me feel like I'm going to get asthma."
And while gas prices worry resident Daniel Seaborn, the cost of pollution may be a bigger factor.
"We have higher instances of heart attack, higher instances of obesity … we have a couple cancer clusters all because of the pollution," he said.
Clean Air advocates say the new proposal, which goes into effect in 2017, would be equal to taking 33 million cars off American roads. The EPA estimates it will increase the average cost of a car by about $130 in 2025.
The auto industry favors it because more than a dozen states currently have similar standards and the dual requirements force car companies to build two different versions of the same car.