EPA confirms Tier 3 delay as lobbyists take their marks

Source: Jason Plautz, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, September 30, 2013

U.S. EPA confirmed today that it won’t finalize a rule that would reduce sulfur in gasoline by year’s end as originally promised but offered assurances that the delay wouldn’t affect the rule’s scheduled 2017 implementation.

Due to the more than 200,000 comments it received, the agency said in a statement it now intends to issue the Tier 3 gasoline standards in February. The rule, which was proposed last March, had been set to be finalized in December, which environmentalists said would allow it to take effect in 2017 (Greenwire, Sept. 26).

“EPA will make a decision with regard to the start date of the program in the final rule, but the agency’s adjusted schedule does not preclude a 2017 start date for the program, as proposed,” the agency said in a statement. EPA added that the standards “would provide critical air quality and health benefits as soon as they are implemented.”

As proposed, the Tier 3 standards would lower the levels of sulfur in gasoline from 30 parts per million to 10 ppm by 2017, while slashing emissions of smog-forming pollutants and soot from vehicles. They would also align the federal government with fuel standards in California.

The rules have been beset by questions about their timeline. After a lengthy delay, the proposal was released March 29 but was not published in the Federal Register until May. Industry complaints about the short turnaround led to a two-week extension in the comment period, prompting concerns that the standards could slip past this year.

Green groups have cautioned that a long delay would mean the standards wouldn’t apply to model year 2017 vehicles and lose a year of health benefits. Luke Tonachel, director for vehicles and fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that a delay “risks the health of Americans” and that the public “needs assurance that we can still count on those pollution reductions.”

Automakers disagree, saying they already must comply with California’s sulfur cuts as part of the Low-Emission Vehicle (LEV III) program that also begins in 2017. The industry has advocated for the national Tier 3 standards to align with California’s to reduce regulatory confusion. They say they’re prepared to meet them by 2017

“As long as EPA still meets the promised fuel and vehicle standards in 2017, public health won’t suffer,” Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said in an email. “But both [EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy] and the White House need to understand this is a top public health priority and rule promulgation can’t slip further.”

The American Petroleum Institute in a statement said the group “would not be surprised that EPA’s timeline is slipping, given the complexity of this rule and its significant impact on both the oil and auto industries.”

“API still believes that EPA has not justified the environmental benefit, and has provided EPA with studies that demonstrate the Tier 3 sulfur reductions could increase the manufacturing cost of gasoline by up to 9 cents per gallon while providing a negligible reduction in ozone levels,” the industry group said.

Amid those timing questions, groups on both sides say they’re renewing their discussions with the Obama administration on finalization of the rule and its possible effects. Automakers and engine technology groups met yesterday with White House officials to urge them to move quickly on the rules.

Chris Miller, executive director of the Advanced Engine Systems Institute, helped lead the group yesterday to tell White House officials that the standards are “good for business and business groups want them to move forward.” Miller was joined by officials from the Association of Global Automakers, which has advocated for a quick release of the standards in order to align them with those in California.

Miller said his member companies have been looking for the standards to be released this year or as soon as possible in order to get national certainty to begin investing in the clean fuel technology.

Miller called the meeting productive and said the White House seemed committed to getting the standards done. He also said officials dismissed concerns about a House funding bill filled with energy riders — including language that could block Tier 3 and other EPA rules — saying that President Obama “wouldn’t go for that” and that he “had their back.”

Other industry and environmental groups also say they expect to meet with administration officials to discuss finalization in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the American Lung Association has launched a series of online videos that it says will show the broad public support for the proposed standards. The videos, which launched earlier this month on the group’s YouTube page, feature man-on-the-street interviews with testimonials about why people are advocating for clean air.

“We have polls that show the public thinks air quality is still too poor and that it’s still too hard to breathe,” said Peter Iwanowicz, director of ALA’s healthy air campaign. “We wanted to test that out and talk to real people. In the political space, you hear that people don’t want clean air and that the economy’s too fragile, but these are real stories from real people talking in an unscripted way.”

The ads also feature those being interviewed dropping a penny in a jar to signify the extra penny per gallon the standards are expected to cost. Industry groups have said the standards will actually cost between 6 and 9 cents more per gallon.

ALA will continue launching the videos this month and will use them to lead to a direct advocacy campaign, instructing members of the public to ask Obama to finish the standards as soon as possible.