EPA Decision to Clean Up Nation’s Diesels Biggest Clean-Air Advance in a Generation, Say NRDC Legal and Medical Experts

WASHINGTON (December 21, 2000) - Calling it the biggest public health advance in a generation, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) today hailed the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to adopt a final rule that will cut diesel truck and bus pollution by as much as 95 percent. EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner will announce the new rule this morning.

"This is the biggest vehicle pollution news since the removal of lead from gasoline, and will 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. "Just as lead in gasoline was a barrier to the use of catalytic converters in cars, today’s high levels of sulfur in diesel fuel obstruct advanced catalysts and other diesel pollution controls. The environmental benefits will be comparable to permanently removing 13 million trucks from our roads."

The rule will require:

  • a 97 percent reduction in the maximum amount of sulfur allowed in highway diesel fuel, from the current cap of 500 parts per million to 15 parts per million, phased in over 3-1/2 years beginning in 2006.
  • a 95 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides emissions, phased in from 2007 to 2010; and
  • a 90 percent reduction in particulate emissions, starting in 2007

"This action creates ambitious targets," Kassel added, "but they are critically needed and technologically achievable."

The proposal was opposed by most oil companies because it would require them to spend money to update their refinery systems. However, after an NRDC-led coalition of environmental, public health and auto industry organizations, oil companies, state trucking associations, and state and local air pollution officials pressed the White House for the strongest possible rule, the administration signaled its intention to finalize the rule adopted today.

Diesel engines emit huge quantities of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and more than 40 chemicals that are known or suspected to cause cancer. Gina Solomon, M.D., MPH, a member of NRDC’s medical staff, explained that particulate matter is associated with increased asthma emergencies; bronchitis and other cardiopulmonary ailments; cancer; and heart disease, and that nitrogen oxides contribute to ground-level ozone formation, smog, acid rain, and nutrient pollution in waterways. In October, EPA determined that diesel exhaust was a likely carcinogen, based on a six-year review and public process.

"The new EPA rule could mean longer, healthier lives for many Americans," Dr. Solomon said. "It should reduce childhood asthma emergencies and cancer risk for everyone."