Next EPA Fight: Automakers Vs Oil Refiners Over Clean Fuels

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It's not just how efficiently you burn it--it's the stuff you're burning, too.

That's the message coming from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, working with the EPA to tighten pollution rules for gasoline, reducing the proportion of sulfur from 30 parts per million (ppm) to 10 ppm.

The oil refiners don't want to play ball just yet though. Bloomberg reports that the American Petroleum Institute (API) is pushing the EPA to delay the tighter rules, lest the cost of improving the fuel be passed on to the consumer.

Carmakers are keen to see the new, cleaner fuel rules passed, as it allows them to build even cleaner combustion engines to meet the environmental targets imposed on them.

Excess sulfur in fuel is making this difficult as it "poisons" emission control devices, reducing the manufacturers' ability to cut emissions. With cleaner fuels, cleaner engines can be made.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and five other senators wrote EPA in January to voice their concerns.

"With gasoline prices already high, and with so many Americans already struggling to make ends meet, we urge you to recognize that now is not the time for new regulations." Inhofe explained.

Estimates vary wildly as to how much the changes would affect prices at the pump - from 25 cents per gallon, says the API, to only 1 cent per gallon according to the EPA. The former would take many states ever closer to the $5 per gallon mark. We've heard dire predictions over the cost of regulation before which are usually overstated--so the real cost of cleaning up fuel remains to be seen.

Tighter fuel and emissions regulations are already in place in Europe and Japan, as well as California, whose CARB standards are adopted by several other states.

The fuel standards won't have any effect on current Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, which regulate fuel usage rather than emissions, but they should make it easier for carmakers to meet tighter EPA emissions standards and smog requirements.

The new regulations would make up part of the new Tier 3 standards for pollution emission levels. However, they're likely to be delayed, and the agency hasn't yet sent them to the White House for review, which could add several months to the process.


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Comments (6)
  1. Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel is already at 15 ppm so it seems reasonable to force gasoline down to at least that level.

    Shockingly, home heating oil (aka diesel for furnaces) is at 500 ppm. That really needs to be fixed since I burn 1000 gallons per year just to keep my home warm :(.

  2. JB:

    I have had refiners amongst my clients for several years. I can tell you that Low-Sulfur Deisel upgrades to refineries were a Godsend to engineering companies and equipment suppliers during otherwise lean years. It is not a cheap modification. As you rightly point out, the target isn't impossible at all. But somebody will ultimately pay the bill, and the very low-margin refining business will by all means pass the bill on. I don't disagree with the ultimate need; it just isn't free.

    As for heating oil, the refiners don't see a future in it. Since you already have a guy coming to your house with a truck to stay toasty, have you considered a propane conversion? I can get you in touch with Hank Hill at Strickland...

  3. Heating oil sulfur is currently being lowered, and I believe it switches to 15ppm this year.

  4. No matter what the government does, it will not affect gas prices for at least a year, everyone knows that, or, if the republicans have their way, until the Obama administration ends. The governors can affect gas prices by capping them. Ask the governor of New Hampshire how he keeps the gas prices and auto insurance low in his state. The last time I checked, they had the lowest gas prices and auto insurance in the nation.

  5. NH gasoline prices seem to be in the middle/low price range for the country, but hardly outstanding.
    What is it that the governor is doing there in the "Live Freeze and Die" state?

  6. I think tolerance of oil's resistance to change, is going to wear thin. We are going just have to continue the push to go electric and render them obsolete.

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