EPA Issuing Tough New Diesel Rules
Harmful Emissions Curbed In Bulldozers and Tractors
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 11, 2004; Page A03
The Bush administration announced tough new rules yesterday to curb harmful emissions from off-road diesel-powered vehicles, pleasing environmentalists after brokering a compromise with industry on deadlines.
Off-road diesel-powered vehicles, such as bulldozers, tractors and irrigation equipment, are among the largest sources of pollutants that scientists have linked to premature deaths, lung cancer, asthma and other serious respiratory illnesses. The regulations, which Environmental Protection Agency director Mike Leavitt will sign today, would reduce the emissions of nitrogen oxide and other pollutants from diesel engines by more than 90 percent over the next eight years.
"This is a big deal," Leavitt said, standing outside the White House after he briefed President Bush on the matter. "Nearly everyone will remember when we took the lead out of gasoline. We are now going to take sulfur out of diesel. The black puff of smoke will be a thing of the past."
Although the administration usually comes under criticism from environmentalists, yesterday's announcement brought plaudits from members of the green community, who said the rules would protect public health by preventing deaths, heart attacks and asthma-related emergencies.
"It's remarkable that these strong rules come from the same administration that has otherwise turned back the clock on 30 years of environmental progress," said Emily Figdor, a clean-air advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "It's great to see science win out over the special interests for a change."
In recent years, scientists and environmentalists have focused on the dangers associated with high sulfur levels in non-road diesel fuel, which produce microscopic particles that invade the lungs and can cause cancer, asthma and other respiratory illnesses. EPA officials predict that within 30 years, the new regulations will prevent more than 12,000 premature deaths and will save billions of dollars in hospital and medical costs.
The new rules require oil refiners to reduce the sulfur in non-road diesel fuel by 99 percent from its current level of 3,400 parts per million to 500 parts per million in 2007 and to 15 parts per million in 2010. It allows a slightly longer timeline for locomotive and marine engines, reducing sulfur to 15 parts per million in 2012. Figdor and other environmentalists criticized this delay, saying it was the one area in which the administration bowed to industry's wishes.
"With an opportunity to score a slam-dunk, at the last minute the Bush administration committed an unnecessary foul," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust. "It caved in behind closed doors to political pressure from oil companies and delayed cleanup for fuel used in marine and train engines."
For the most part, public health advocates and environmentalists embraced the administration's move.
"This rule will help protect seniors, children and people with lung diseases including asthma, who are the most vulnerable to the harm from air pollution," said John L. Kirkwood, chief executive of the American Lung Association. "According to the American Lung Association State of the Air 2004 report, more than one in four Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of particle pollution. Exposure to particle pollution leads to premature death."
Leavitt said the health benefits resulting from the regulations are worth $80 billion a year, "nearly 40 times the cost" of compliance.
Diesel industry representatives voiced guarded praise for the policy shift. The National Association of Manufacturers praised the EPA for engaging in "a collaborative process with interested parties."
"While the rule has some problems, including stringent locomotive and marine fuel limits, blended fuel transportation and storage obstacles, and problematic compliance dates, the overall rule is a testament to how collaboration among affected parties can lead to a better way of achieving air quality reductions," said Jeffrey Marks, NAM's director of air quality.
Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, an industry advocacy group, said that despite challenges ahead in meeting the new requirements, "there is no question about industry's commitment to meet these aggressive standards."
The administration left some questions unanswered yesterday, however, such as what changes locomotive and marine engine manufacturers would have to make to comply with the new rules.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company