In one of its first major environmental actions, the Bush Administration said it will enforce a new rule that slashes air pollution from diesel trucks and buses. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation was prepared in the waning days of the Clinton Administration.
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announced the decision March 1, and said that the decision was made to implement the rule in order to protect public health and the environment. She added that the diesel rule can help states meet 1997 smog and fine particle standards at issue in the Supreme Court ruling on February 28 that backed the EPA over the American Trucking Associations.
Whitman had said during her confirmation hearings in January that she would review the regulations, which were issues December 21, 2000. They were opposed by many Republicans in Congress and the petroleum and trucking industries.
The rule requires the nation’s oil refineries to remove 97% of the sulfur from diesel fuel between 2006 and 2009. By Beginning with the 2007 model year, diesel-powered trucks and buses must be equipped with engines that produce 90% fewer emissions of particle soot. Nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel engines must be cut 95% by 2010. The rule takes effect March 18, 2001.
The EPA estimates that the new rules, when fully in effect, will eliminate 2.6 million tons of smog-producing chemicals and 110,000 tons of soot from heavy-duty trucks and buses each year. The EPA also estimates that the rule will raise costs of new diesel vehicles by $1,200 to $1,900. Fuel costs attributed to the regulation are expected to increase by four to five cents a gallon.
However, industry officials cautioned that the cost may be much higher. Representatives from the oil industry warned that needed refinery modifications could be so costly that they will result in fuel shortages that will hurt the entire US economy.
"We believe that revision of the diesel rule should be undertaken," said the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association in its reaction to the EPA announcement. "We have heard reports that the administration may review the rule in two years. NPRA believes that it must do so at some point because the rule is unworkable in its current form and will result in significant shortages of diersel fuel. Accordingly, NPRA will continue to pursue vigorously the legal action it has filed in federal court to require EPA to revise the rule into a more balanced and workable form."
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) also criticized the EPA action. ATA believes it is in the nation’s best interest to have one national fuel standard, according to Walter B McCormick, ATA president. However, EPA has failed to address ATA’s concerns that the diesel fuel supply will be adequate and that proper distribution systems will be in place.
"We are concerned about the growing patchwork quilt of boutique fuels across the country that impededs the uninterrupted supply and availability of diesel fuel," he said. "In addition, EPA’s rule is based on aftertreatment technology and controls that do not have extensive track records. Questions about the feasibility of the technology create uncertainty in our industry and are compounded by questions about the reliability of the technology. This uncertainty could have a significant impact on the daily operations of trucking companies."
Additionally, ATA has told EPA that to achieve the cleanest, most cost-effective, and equitable protection of our air, EPA should cleaner fuel for all diesel engine users, something EPA’s diesel fuel rule does not address. For instance, train locomotives are not part of the rule at this time. EPA has not responded to the ATA comments.