As part of a flurry of regulations being churned out in the last days of the Clinton Administration, EPA and the White House announced rules yesterday that will dramatically cut air pollution from heavy-duty trucks and buses by more than 90 percent over the next decade.
The federal standards will require new large trucks and buses to meet stringent tailpipe emission limits and direct refiner to produce virtually sulfur-free diesel fuel.
The rules could eventually raise the price truckers pay for diesel fuel by almost 11 cents a gallon and reduce diesel supplies by up to 320,000 barrels per day.
The rules apply to new trucks and replacement truck engines sold beginning in late 2006.
It is expected to take at least 10 years after that for the cleaner trucks to replace most of the current fleet.
Still, the pollution reductions eventually will be equal to removing 13 million trucks from the road, according to various estimates.
To meet the more stringent emission standards, heavy-duty trucks will have to be equipped with pollution controls that capture exhaust chemicals similar to the catalytic devices required in cars.
Likewise, 80 percent of the diesel fuel sold nationwide will have to be virtually sulfur free -- on average 15 parts per million by 2006 from the current level of about 500 parts per million.
The new standards anticipate about a 95 percent reduction of smog-causing nitrogen oxide and a 90 percent reduction in microscopic soot.
Fuel pollutants from diesel are blamed for causing asthma, bronchitis and heart disease as well as possibly cancer.
A recent study by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found a link between exposure to microscopic soot and death rates in 20 large cities.
The oil industry has warned that the large sulfur reductions would result in regional shortages of diesel fuel, as refiners shut down facilities instead of spending to upgrade them.
The American Petroleum Institute (API) points to a recent Department of Energy study that put the cost for refiners to meet the new clean air rules at 7.8 to 10.6 cents a gallon, more than twice as high as EPA''s estimate of 3 to 4 cents a gallon.
Heeding industry warnings, EPA is giving small refiners several years longer to convert their operations to produce cleaner fuel.
However, API said the cost of meeting the requirements will cause "a significant risk of fuel shortages" by 2007.
by Virginia Sutcliffe