NRDC Coalition Urges President to OK EPA Diesel Fuel Rule

Environmentalists, Auto Industry, Fuel Producer and Others Join for First Time

WASHINGTON (December 6, 2000) - An unprecedented coalition of environmentalists, automakers, fuel producers, truckers, engine manufacturers and public officials issued a letter today urging President Clinton to finalize a proposal to clean up diesel fuel and diesel engine emissions. The rule, which the Environmental Protection Agency proposed last May, would eliminate 97 percent of the sulfur in diesel fuel by mid-2006, and require reductions of 95 percent in nitrogen oxides emissions and 90 percent in particulate matter emissions beginning with the 2007 engine model year.

"Our coalition members don’t always agree on every issue, but we do agree on this: EPA’s proposal would clean up the air and benefit all Americans," said Rich Kassel, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Dump Dirty Diesel Campaign and organizer of the coalition. "The environmental benefits would be huge. It would be comparable to permanently removing 13 million trucks from our roads."

The letter to President Clinton was signed by five environmental groups (the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), U.S. Public Interest Research Group, American Lung Association, Sierra Club and Clean Air Network); the automaker trade organization (Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers); the largest U.S. independent oil refiner (Tosco); a vehicle technology trade group (Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association); an engine manufacturer (International Truck and Engine Corporation); a state truckers group (California Trucking Association); and three public official associations (Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials, State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators, and Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management).

In the letter, the coalition groups maintained that the best way to clean up diesel emissions is with "a single, national fuel containing sulfur capped at 15 parts-per-million (ppm), fully implemented in mid-2006."

"Nearly eliminating sulfur from diesel fuel would be the most significant vehicle pollution measure since taking lead out of gasoline," Kassel explained. "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 Department of Energy, meanwhile, has proposed a competing plan that would phase in low-sulfur diesel over a 10-year period. The coalition warned against phasing in the rule, which would require the availability of low- and high-sulfur fuel over the implementation period.

"The DOE approach is fundamentally flawed," said Kassel. "Any phase-in approach that results in a two-fuel system would undermine the environmental benefits of the rule; delay sales of the new, cleaner diesel engines; require unnecessary, multibillion dollar capital investments by the nation’s diesel refiners, transporters and sellers; and result in a needless burden on the nation’s truck drivers and 58,000 retail fuel sellers."

Both EPA and President Clinton have called the EPA diesel proposal their top air pollution priority, and it enjoys widespread support. For example, EPA received more than 70,000 letters, emails and faxes supporting the rule during its public comment period. And a range of interest groups besides those that signed the coalition letter, including the two largest diesel fuel companies (BP and Tosco), support the sulfur portion of the rule.

If the White House adopts any part of the DOE proposal, Kassel fears that the coalition he pulled together would fall apart and the rule could be weakened by Congress or a Bush administration. "The Clinton administration is on the verge of a historic environmental achievement," he said. "But it needs to finalize the EPA proposal as soon as possible."