Jayne O'Donnell, USA TODAY
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed new rules today that will require lower-sulfur fuels to help reduce smog-causing emissions from cars and trucks beginning in 2017.
The long-awaited rule would increase the price of gas by a penny a gallon or up to 9 cents, depending on whether analyses cited by EPA and environmental groups or the oil industry are to be believed.
The proposal also requires vehicles to meet tighter emissions standards at a cost of about $130 a vehicle in 2025. Once fully implemented, EPA says the standards will help avoid up to 2,400 premature deaths per year and prevent 23,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children.
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Sulfur in gas has to be reduce by more than 60% in 2017, EPA says. The agency is also calling for an 80% reduction in smog-forming volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, a 70% tighter standard for microscopic particles such as soot and a reduction of fuel vapor emissions to almost zero. The proposal will also reduce vehicle emissions of toxic air pollutants including benzene and 1,3-butadiene, by up to 40%.
Automakers support the proposal and say the fuels are needed so newer catalytic converters can better scrub smog-causing particles out of vehicle emissions.
"Our cleaner cars will need even cleaner fuels like those already sold across Europe and Asia, and we are pleased EPA is proposing cleaner fuels," said Gloria Bergquist of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
While the proposed rule is similar to California rules finalized last year, EPA wants vehicles to be certified as able to use fuel containing 15% ethanol, while California only requires certification of fuel that is up to 10% ethanol, which is known as E10. E15 has been a hot-button issue for both refiners and automakers, who say it can cause engine problems, especially in older model vehicles.
Bergquist says the EPA proposal also has many different test methods, timelines and procedures, which raises the cost to comply - which will boost the price of new cars.
But the American Petroleum Institute opposes lowering the sulfur content of fuel, which it says is too costly and could increase the cost of gasoline production by up to nine cents per gallon. And API says the rule could have the opposite effect of that intended.
"Implementing the new requirements would actually increase greenhouse gas emissions because of the energy-intensive equipment required to comply," says API's Bob Greco.
The increase in the price of gasoline really should be just one cent a gallon, says a study by Navigant Economics and cited by the environmental group Union of Concerned Scientists.
UCS called the proposal a "huge step forward toward cleaning our country's air and creating jobs."
"The path from a car's tailpipe to our lungs is surprisingly short, and more than 1 in 3 Americans live in areas where air pollution levels exceed at least one federal limit," said Michelle Robinson, director of UCS's Clean Vehicles program.
Cleaner fuels are needed to prevent sulfur from disabling newer engine technologies automakers are planning to meet tougher greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy rules beginning in 2017, says Bergquist.