Businesses, Labor and Environmentalists Jointly Call for Cleaner Gasoline and Less Smog-forming Pollution from Cars

We can and should have cleaner-burning gasoline and less smog pollution from cars. It’s time for the Administration to strengthen existing standards to clean our air and protect our health.

On January 9th, NRDC joined a diverse group of stakeholders, including manufacturers, investors, labor and environmentalists, on a letter to President Obama urging him to adopt tighter rules for gasoline sulfur and tailpipe smog-forming pollution, the so-called “Tier 3” standards.

We are not alone. In November, a group of U.S. Senators wrote to the president with the same request.

In December, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers also gave their support to new gasoline and tailpipe standards. (Tier 3 would align national standards with stronger standards in California and states that adopt California’s rules. Also, adopting Tier 3 in 2013 will enable automakers to more effectively integrate Tier 3 technologies with changes being made to meet landmark 2017-2025 fuel efficiency standards.)

Getting to the standards has taken a while, however. Over two years ago, in May 2010, President Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate the need for tighter controls on gasoline sulfur and the emissions of nitrogen oxides and air toxics from cars. EPA responded to the president’s request by developing new standards but those standards have still not been released for inter-agency or public review.   

The need to adopt the standards is clear. Passenger cars are the second largest source of pollution that causes ground-level ozone, or smog. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from cars react to create ozone. NOx and VOCs also lead to the formation of fine particles. Car tailpipes also emit toxic substances such as formaldehyde.

All of these pollutants threaten our health and frustrate our right to breathe clean air. Today over 125 million Americans—more than one in three—live in areas which fail to meet one or more federal health-based ambient air quality standards.

As I described in a previous post, the anticipated Tier 3 standards would result in billions of dollars in annual health benefits. The National Association of Clean Air Agencies estimates that the Tier 3 standards will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds by 29, 38 and 26 percent respectively. With lower pollution, we avoid respiratory illnesses, lost work days and premature deaths.

The health benefits also come with new jobs. Thousands of workers will be needed to modify and operate refining processes to reduce sulfur and to produce more advanced vehicle exhaust systems.

Overall, Tier 3 benefits far outweigh very modest costs. Cleaner gasoline, achieved by lowering sulfur from 30 ppm to 10 ppm, would cost less than a penny a gallon.

Above the fray of fiscal wrangling in Washington, the Administration should forge ahead with cost-effective policies for a cleaner future. The Tier 3 standards for gasoline and car tailpipes are long overdue. It’s time for the Administration to act to ensure cleaner driving and to protect our health.

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