Bipartisan Senate group seeks delay in EPA tailpipe rules

Source: Jeremy P. Jacobs • E&E  • Posted: Friday, January 13, 2012

A bipartisan group of senators today urged U.S. EPA to hold off on new regulations that would cut air pollution from the tailpipes of cars and trucks because the rules would drive up the cost of gasoline.

EPA is expected to propose an update to its “Tier 2” emissions standards for gasoline and vehicles. Among the proposed changes, the “Tier 3” update is expected to include a stricter limit on sulfur in gasoline.

That limit, environmentalists say, will lead to immediate reductions in harmful emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds.

The senators said they support reducing air pollution, but that economic studies have shown that it would be expensive for oil refineries to lower sulfur levels from the current 30 parts per million (ppm) limit to 10 ppm, which EPA has suggested for the new standard.

“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 regulations that will raise the price of fuel even further,” the group, led by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.), wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

The senators pointed to a study done by energy consulting firm Baker & O’Brien that suggests the capital and annual operating costs per year of implementing a 10 ppm sulfur standard could be up to $17 billion and $13 billion, respectively.

“Depending on the stringency of the proposed rule,” the senators wrote, “that could add 12 to 25 cents to each gallon of gasoline.”

Inhofe’s letter was co-signed by Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, David Vitter of Louisiana and John Barrasso of Wyoming as well as Democrats Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska.

The letter comes as the Tier 3 standard is becoming a hot-button issue for the agency this year. Yesterday, environmental groups also sent Jackson a letter urging her to press on with the new standards because of the significant health gains they would produce (Greenwire, Jan. 12).

Environmentalists also charged that Inhofe’s letter overstates the cost of the potential regulations. They argued that the letter’s estimate includes both vapor controls for gasoline, which are expensive and produce only minimal effects, and sulfur controls, which are cheaper and more effective. EPA, they said, is only considering sulfur limits.

They consequently also chastised the letter’s Democratic signees.

“Shame on Begich and Landrieu for falling for that,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

Nevertheless, the senators emphasized that their opposition to the standards was based on economics.

“If plants close as a result of this or other EPA rules,” they wrote, “workers will lose their jobs, local and small businesses will lose their customers and state and local governments will lose tax revenue.”

They added: “Likewise, if EPA does not proceed carefully with its regulations, the nationwide price of fuel could increase to the further detriment of consumers and businesses.”

Click here to read the senators’ letter.