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EPA Tackles Air Pollution with New Cleaner Fuels Rule

New cleaner fuels rule from the EPA will improve health and air qualityIn a strong bid to improve the health and well-being of Americans by reducing and better controlling air pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on March 3 issued a final rule establishing new, more stringent and comprehensive Tier 3 vehicle and fuel emissions standards for passenger cars and trucks.

Based on a systems approach that considers vehicles and the fuels they use as one integrated system, the new rule – “Control of Air Pollution from Motor Vehicles: Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards” – from 2017 onward will reduce the sulfur content of gasoline and hence tailpipe and evaporative emissions from passenger cars, light-duty trucks, medium-duty passenger vehicles and some heavy-duty trucks.

The new Tier 3 vehicle emissions standards are expected to yield dividends economically, as well as in terms of health, greenhouse gas emissions and overall environmental sustainability. Every $1 spent to comply with the new Tier 3 rules will yield as much as $13 in health benefits for Americans, the EPA estimates.

The drive for cleaner fuels

As the EPA explains, “These cleaner fuel and car standards are an important component of the administration’s national program for clean cars and trucks, which also include historic fuel efficiency standards that are saving new vehicle owners at the gas pump. Once fully in place, the standards will help avoid up to 2,000 premature deaths per year and 50,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children.

“These standards are a win for public health, a win for our environment, and a win for our pocketbooks,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was quoted in a press release. “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.”

Enacted under the Clean Air Act, the new Tier 3 vehicle and fuel emissions standard will significantly reduce vehicle emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC), carbon monoxide (CO), direct particulate matter (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide and greenhouse gases. As a result, the amount of ozone, particulate matter and toxics in the air we breathe will be reduced significantly.

According to the EPA,

“The sulfur standards will cost less than a penny per gallon of gasoline on average once the standards are fully in place. The vehicle standards will have an average cost of about $72 per vehicle in 2025.”

Meeting air quality standards

The new Tier 3 vehicle emissions and fuel standard will also help state and local agencies achieve and maintain National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), reducing the amount of smog and soot in the lower atmosphere. As the EPA explains,

“The standards support efforts by states to reduce harmful levels of smog and soot and aids their ability to attain and maintain science-based national ambient air quality standards to protect public health, while also providing flexibilities for small businesses, including hardship provisions and additional lead time for compliance.”

The new federal rule will harmonize with California’s ambitious and groundbreaking Low Emission Vehicle Program, “thus creating a federal vehicle emissions program that will allow automakers to sell the same vehicle in all 50 states,” the EPA notes.

Cleaner fuels, healthier air

Motor vehicles are a major source of air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA projects that by 2018 passenger cars and light trucks will account for 10-25 percent of total NOx emissions, 15-30 percent of total VOC emissions, and 5-10 percent of PM2.5 emissions. These mix in the atmosphere to form ozone and other air pollutants, which in turn, adversely affect human health and ecosystems.

Over 149 million Americans are subject to unhealthy levels of air pollution, which is linked to respirtatory and cardiovascular problems and other health problems. The results include greater use of medication, hospital admissions and emergency room visits, as well as premature deaths, the EPA highlights.

Moreover, cars and light trucks are responsible for over 50 percent of near-road concentrations of some toxic pollutants More than 50 million people live, work or go to school near high-traffic roads while the average American spends more than one hour every day traveling along them. Americans use personal vehicles on over 80 percent of daily trips, the EPA highlights.

“Few other national strategies exist that will deliver the same magnitude of multi-pollutant reductions and associated public health protection that is projected to result from the Tier 3 standards. Without this action to reduce nationwide motor vehicle emissions, areas would have to adopt other, less cost-effective measures to reduce emissions from other sources under their state or local authority.”

By 2018, EPA estimates the cleaner fuels and cars program will annually prevent between 225 and 610 premature deaths, significantly reduce ambient concentrations of ozone and reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by about 260,000 tons. That is about 10 percent of emissions from on-highway vehicles, with those reductions reaching 25 percent (330,000 tons) by 2030.

The EPA anticipates an 80 percent reduction in fleet average NMOG+NOX compared to current standards, and a 70 percent reduction in per-vehicle PM standards once the new standards are fully phased in. “The fully phased-in Tier 3 heavy-duty vehicle tailpipe emissions standards for NMOG+NOX and PM are on the order of 60 percent lower than current standards. Finally, the fully phased-in evaporative emissions standards represent a 50 percent reduction from current standards,” according to the EPA.

“By 2030, EPA estimates that up to 2,000 premature deaths, 50,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children, 2,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits, and 1.4 million lost school days, work days and days when activities would be restricted due to air pollution.

“Total health-related benefits in 2030 will be between $6.7 and $19 billion annually. The program will also reduce exposure to pollution near roads. More than 50 million people live, work, or go to school in close proximity to high-traffic roadways, and the average American spends more than one hour traveling along roads each day.”

The new Tier 3 vehicle emissions standards result from an inclusive, thorough and comprehensive process of data gathering, scientific and policy analysis, and public outreach that incorporated input from key stakeholders, such as auto manufacturers, refiners, fuel distributors, others in the petroleum industry, renewable fuels industry participants, health and environmental organizations, consumer groups, labor groups, and state and local government officials, as well as 200,000 public comments.

As the EPA explains, “The systems approach enables emission reductions that are both technologically feasible and cost-effective beyond what would be possible looking at vehicle and fuel standards in isolation. We first applied such an approach with our Tier 2 vehicle/gasoline sulfur standards (finalized in 2000).7 We believe that a similar approach for the Tier 3 standards is a cost-effective way to achieve substantial additional emissions reductions.”

For more on air pollution and motor vehicles, check out WebMD’s slideshow presentation, “10 Worst Smog Cities in America.”

Image credit: Wikipedia

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