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The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday rolled out a new rule to limit sulfur emissions from gasoline, saying the action will provide welcome relief to people with breathing problems and be the equivalent of removing an estimated 33 million cars from the road.
U.S. oil refineries will be required to purchase new equipment to remove sulfur, which builds up in vehicle emission control devices, causing more pollution. Conservationists and automakers such as the Ford Motor Co. praised the move, while a trade group that represents the oil and gas industry blasted it as an unnecessary step that will hurt consumers.
The EPA said the requirement, when fully implemented in 2025, will cost consumers less than a cent per gallon more at the pump, while preventing 2,000 premature deaths a year and lowering health-care costs by as much as $19 billion.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the new regulation is "a win for public health," one that will increase the average price of a car by about $75.
But the American Petroleum Institute countered that complying with the rule, which is to be phased in starting in 2017, will cost $2.4 billion per year and increase gas prices by up to 9 cents per gallon.
"This rule's biggest impact is to increase the cost of delivering energy to Americans, making it a threat to consumers, jobs and the economy," API Downstream Group Director Bob Greco said. "But it will provide negligible, if any, environmental benefits. In fact, air quality would continue to improve with the existing standard and without additional costs."
Automakers welcomed the federal rule because it is close to what California already requires. That means car companies will no longer have to build one type of car, light truck and SUV for that state and different versions for the rest of the country. The change will allow them to streamline costs.
"Today, the EPA took steps to harmonize regulations to improve air quality by issuing its final rule on . . . tailpipe emission standards," said John Viera, Ford's director for sustainability and vehicle environmental matters.
Support from the American Lung Association was more emphatic. The group estimated that the rule will prevent 19,000 asthma attacks and 300,000 missed days of work and school by 2030.
"The standards will reduce harmful air pollutants including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds. These pollutants are important precursors of ozone pollution and particle pollution," said Albert A. Rizzo, a past chairman of the association's board.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, called the standard common sense, "another step forward in making our air cleaner and safer to breathe."
The new sulfur reduction standard, called Tier 3, is an extension of earlier sulfur rules called Tier 2 that reduced sulfur and pollution in cars and other light vehicles by 90 percent. Those regulations paved the way for the development of more advanced emission control technology in use today.
"While there were claims at the time that the program would cause fuel prices to increase far in excess of EPA estimates . . . and result in fuel supply shortages, Tier 2 was a success," the EPA says on its Web site.