EPA Misses Goal To Finalize ‘Tier III’ Rule By February

Source: Inside EPA • Posted: Sunday, March 2, 2014

EPA will miss a self-imposed goal to finalize its “Tier III” fuel and vehicle emissions rule in February, but could issue the rule as early as March according to an environmentalist, which would be a win for states, public health advocates and others who have long touted the air quality benefits expected as a result of the policy.

The environmentalist confirms that EPA would not issue the rule by its non-binding Feb. 28 goal but said EPA is likely to release the rule March 3. Another source also heard the rule was “not happening today.”

An EPA spokeswoman, asked about the status of the rule, said only that the agency was “continuing to work to finalize the rule and will announce it once it is ready.”

The slight delay for Tier III will be a disappointment for states, advocates and the auto sector who wanted EPA to finalize the rule in February, though they previously conceded that waiting another week for the final rule would not have a material impact on the rule’s expected major air quality benefits or the ability of automakers to comply. EPA already missed an earlier self-imposed goal to finish the rule by the end of 2013.

The rule is expected to disappoint oil industry groups who have been lobbying EPA and the White House to drop the rule entirely or — at the very least — give them an additional two years to install equipment and make upgrades at refineries that would allow them to produce lower-sulfur gasoline.

Oil groups are opposed to the Tier III rule, which was proposed last May, in large part because of the high costs and difficulty they say they will face in having just three years to cut sulfur levels in gasoline from 30 parts per million to 10 parts per million. Beyond the sulfur cuts, the rule also requires auto manufacturers to meet stringent new tailpipe emission standards starting with model year 2017 vehicles.

Automakers want refiners to take sulfur out of gasoline because it is known to “poison” catalysts used in emission control systems on cars and trucks, making them less able to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Sulfur poisoning could become worse, automakers say, as they transition to more fuel-efficient vehicles with lower exhaust temperatures that are less able to burn off excess sulfur.

States are also strongly in support of Tier III because its projected air quality benefits are expected to help them comply with tightening national ambient air quality standards, meaning they will be able to avoid imposing far more expensive controls on local industrial sources.

The National Association of Clean Air Agencies, representing state and local air agencies, inĀ a Feb. 6 letterurged the administration to finalize Tier III by no later than Feb. 28 so it would take effect with model year 2017 vehicles.

But the oil sector, led by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, have pushed EPA to drop the rule, as they maintain that air quality is already improving because of past sulfur cuts under “Tier II” standards, and that further sulfur reductions will generate negligible air quality benefits.

API President and CEO Jack Gerard, in a Feb. 26 email newsletter said further sulfur cuts are “both costly and unnecessary. . . . We can all agree that protecting the public’s health and the nation’s environment is important. However, EPA’s Tier 3 regulations for gasoline go too far, too fast.”

He touted a study that found the rule could increase gasoline prices by up to 9 cents per gallon, though EPA projects the cost to be about a penny per gallon.

As of press time, the rule was still under interagency review at the White House Office of Management and Budget, where it has been since Jan. 24. Several major oil groups, states and others heldĀ 11th-hour meetingswith the Obama administration to try and sway the outcome of the final rule.