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EPA Proposals on Reduced Diesel Pollution Biggest Clean-Air Advance in a Generation

Say NRDC legal and medical authorities

NEW YORK (May 16, 2000) - Calling them the biggest public health advances in a generation, experts from NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) hailed a series of diesel fuel and exhaust-reduction proposals announced by the Environmental Protection Agency today that would reduce some categories of on-road diesel pollution by 95 percent.

EPA's proposal would cut the amount of sulfur in diesel fuel by 97 percent, opening the door to the use of advanced emission controls that cannot work with currently available high-sulfur fuels. Citing its 1973 victory removing lead from gasoline, NRDC says that reducing sulfur levels in diesel fuel will be as significant to cleaning up the nation's trucks and buses as unleaded gasoline is to cleaning up the nation's cars.

NRDC, along with air pollution foes across the country, cautioned that heavy lobbying by the oil industry threatens to weaken the new low-sulfur regulations before they can be adopted.

The proposed rules would require a:

  • 95 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides emissions, phased in over four years, to be completed by 2010;
  • 90 percent reduction in particulate emissions by 2007; and
  • 97 percent reduction in sulfur levels from the current standard of 500 parts per million to 15 parts per million.

NRDC expects oil companies to oppose the last rule, as it would require them to spend money to update refinery systems.

"This is the biggest vehicle pollution news since the removal of lead from gasoline, and could lead to the most significant national public health advance in a generation," said Richard Kassel, NRDC senior attorney and head of the group's Dump Dirty Diesels Campaign. "Our challenge now is to push back against a tidal wave of oil-industry lobbying. It's become clear to us that some oil companies would rather spend their money on lobbyists than on cleaning up their fuel."

Gina Solomon, M.D., MPH, a member of NRDC's medical staff, explained that nitrogen oxides contribute to ground-level ozone formation, smog, and nutrient pollution in waterways. Furthermore, she said that particulate matter is associated with increased asthma emergencies; bronchitis and other cardiopulmonary ailments; cancer; and heart disease.

"The new EPA rules could mean longer, healthier lives for many Americans," Dr. Solomon said in praise of the government proposals. "It can mean a reduction in the epidemic of childhood asthma emergencies and a reduced cancer risk for everyone."

EPA will hold hearings in June on the proposal, as part of a summer-long public comment period. The agency is expected to finalize the rules by year's end. NRDC and other environmental advocates say they will use the public comment period to eliminate the four-year phase-in of the nitrogen oxide reductions rule, and to increase incentives to encourage transit and other urban fleets to switch to non-diesel, cleaner fuel alternatives such as compressed natural gas.

"The EPA's goals are ambitious," Mr. Kassel said, "but they are critically needed and technologically achievable."

NRDC is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, the organization has more than 400,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

For more information on the health effects of diesel pollution, see Exhausted by Diesel

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