EPA Puts Curb on Sulfur in Gasoline


March 4, 2014

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced rules Monday to slash sulfur in gasoline by two-thirds as a way to reduce smog and the respiratory problems it can cause.

The rules require oil refineries, beginning in 2017, to strip sulfur from gasoline, because sulfur interferes with the ability of an engine's catalytic converter to remove tailpipe emissions. Advocates, including environmentalists, public health officials and automakers, welcomed the news, but the U.S. oil industry said the rules will increase its costs and gasoline prices.

"These standards are a win for public health, a win for our environment and a win for our pocketbooks," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in the announcement. Her agency estimates they will help avoid up to 2,000 premature deaths each year and 50,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children, saving $6.7 billion to $19 billion annually in healthcare costs. Once fully implemented in 2025, it says they'll add $72 to the cost of an average vehicle and less than a penny to that of a gallon of gasoline.

The oil industry disagrees. The American Petroleum Institute estimates the rules, by requiring $10 billion in new technology and an extra $2.4 billion in annual operating costs, will boost the manufacturing costs of gasoline by 6 to 9 cents per gallon.

The rules are part of the Obama administration's broader effort to reduce pollution from cars and light trucks, which also include a near doubling in fuel efficiency—to about 54.5 miles per gallon—by 2025. The EPA has been working on the cleaner gasoline standard for years.

"We are pleased that EPA recognizes that cleaner cars need cleaner fuels and finalized a rule with significantly reduced sulfur levels and in line with other developed countries," said the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents General Motors, Ford and Toyota.

The group said the new sulfur standard—10 parts per million (ppm), down from 30 ppm—matches the limit set by California, Japan, South Korea and the European Union and will reduce emissions from existing as well as new cars.

Public health leaders, including Harold Wimmer, national president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said the new rules could substantially lower the rate of respiratory and other illnesses that are associated with air pollution.

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