The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday set new limits on the amount of sulfur permitted in gasoline, capping a lobbying battle that pitted the oil and refining industries against automakers and public health groups.
The EPA's "Tier 3" gasoline rule ratchets down sulfur content to 10 parts per million from 30. The agency said it would bring $13 in health benefits for every dollar spent to comply with the standard, amounting to between $6.7 billion and $19 billion in annual health benefits by 2030. Those health benefits include reducing respiratory — such as asthma — and heart ailments linked to soot, smog and other air pollution caused by sulfur emissions.
The move comes as President Obama has exercised executive authority to push forward a range of climate and air quality issues. Last month, he pushed for new fuel-efficiency standards for large trucks, building on rules finalized in August 2012 that would force cars to get 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
"These standards are a win for public health, a win for our environment, and a win for our pocketbooks," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said. "By working with the auto industry, health groups and other stakeholders, we're continuing to build on the Obama administration's broader clean fuels and vehicles efforts that cut carbon pollution, clean the air we breathe, and save families money at the pump."
The refining and oil industries lost a fight to delay the rule's 2017 implementation date, as they had argued refineries need more time to upgrade their equipment.
"EPA’s decision to move forward on Tier 3 is yet the most recent example of the agency’s propensity for illogical and counterproductive rulemaking," said Charles Drevna, president of refining group American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers.
The American Petroleum Institute also had disagreed with EPA's cost estimate for implementing the rule. The agency said it would cost about a penny per gallon — API said it was closer to 6 to 9 cents.
But McCarthy, who said in a media call that the cost would hover closer to 0.65 cents per gallon in 2025, said API was "relying on ... an outdated estimate of what they thought we would be proposing."
And in a nod to some of the oil and refining industries' concerns, McCarthy said the Tier 3 rule would include flexibility for small refiners that gives them until 2020 to comply.
Environmental, public health groups and automakers labeled the final rule as a victory.
“Despite Big Oil’s attempts to derail and delay these common-sense, public health standards, the Obama administration stood firm. These new standards will save lives, reduce asthma attacks, clean up air pollution, and create American jobs," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said.
EPA says the rule, which would slash 260,000 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions by 2018, would prevent 2,000 premature deaths per year.
The rule's supporters had argued the oil and refining industries' concerns about meeting compliance deadlines were overblown. They said a credit-trading plan for meeting the new rule would suffice, as many refineries already meet the guidelines.
Automakers also had pressed for quick implementation because they are manufacturing cars to run on the new gasoline standards and they claim older blends with the higher sulfur content would hurt the vehicles.
"It allows the technology that we're investing in here to operate at its maximum capacity," Mike Robinson, vice president of sustainability and global regulatory affairs with General Motors said in a media call. "That's the real good news here, is that the standard that's going to apply to the fuels is going to allow this technology to have it's intended effect for the consumer and the public in general."