The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally found a reasonable standard for reducing sulfur in gasoline that will help clean up the air and won’t cost consumers much—it’s the one already being used in California.
The so-called Tier 3 standards, which could be in place by the end of the year, would cut the sulfur content of gasoline in the U.S. by two-thirds by 2017. Although the sulfur, itself, does not present a public health hazard, its presence in gasoline messes up catalytic converters that control tailpipe emissions, contributing to smog and soot.
Nitrogen oxides, a major contributor to smog, could be cut 80% and soot might be reduced 70%.
Sulfur contents nationally are about 2.5 times higher than in California. Much of the developed world, including Japan and the European Union, have a sulfur standard of 10 parts per million, which is comparable to the results that California gets.
Stories in the Washington Post, which first reported it Thursday, and the New York Times are filled with energy industry figures warning that gasoline prices will jump 6 to 8 cents per gallon as refiners pass along their costs to consumers. That has not been the case in California and clean-air groups say the price increase could be as low as a penny per gallon, depending on yet unreleased details of the proposed rules.
The EPA regulations have been sitting around for 15 months. The White House chose to delay their release until after the election and then was faced with a heavy lobbying campaign to wait another year. A survey of 111 refineries by the EPA found that 29 are pretty much using the lower standard now, 66 are close and 16 would need to make major changes to get there.