A broad coalition of clean air groups and truck manufacturers on Tuesday pleaded for an immediate end to delays by the Bush Administration in finalizing a rule to make heavy trucks and buses 95 percent cleaner by 2006.
The coalition asked EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman to make clear that the new administration did not intend to rewrite the agency''s diesel rule published in January.
"This could be the first big environmental test of Whitman and the entire administration," said Frank O''Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust, an interest group.
President George W. Bush issued an order on his first day in office to block some last-minute executive orders and rules laid down by outgoing President Bill Clinton.
Bush also issued a 60-day delay on regulations that were published in the Federal Register -- including the diesel rule -- but had not yet taken effect.
Clean air activists said delays in the rule would extend health problems -- like asthma and lung cancer -- to more Americans which result from breathing air polluted by belches of smoke commonly seen from 18-wheeler highway trucks and city buses.
Manufacturers said they want the rule so they can plan for the future, and build cleaner machines to use cleaner diesel.
Environmentalists are wary of the Bush team''s approach to their causes, like clean air and protecting wilderness, but pointed out repeatedly that the diesel rule was supported by more than just green groups.
"The American Lung Association and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers never before have stood together supporting the same rule," said O''Donnell.
Late last year, the Clinton Administration released the diesel rule, aimed at cutting emissions from both diesel engines and the levels of harmful sulphur in the fuel.
Proponents say the rule would prevent 8,300 premature deaths each year, 5,500 cases of chronic bronchitis and some 360,000 asthma attacks.
Trucks and buses would be up to 95 percent cleaner than models now used, making future vehicles as clean as those which run on natural gas today.
The petroleum industry has complained about both the timing and the extent of a requirement to cut sulphur in diesel to 15 parts per million (ppm), 97 percent below current levels.
The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) filed a lawsuit on Feb. 9, to force changes to the rule, arguing it needs until 2008 to 2010 to make costly refining changes.
NPRA is arguing that the industry cannot make extreme sulphur reductions in diesel right on top of that for gasoline sulphur.
NPRA noted that a study by Charles River Associates showed that the EPA rule would cause a 12 percent yearly shortage in diesel supply when implemented.
by Virginia Sutcliffe