WASHINGTON (Feb. 21, 2001)—Tire retreaders have joined with petroleum refiners, service station operators and others in opposing an Environmental Protection Agency final rule slashing the sulfur content of diesel fuel 97 percent.
Lined up against them in support of the standard, however, is an unusual coalition including environmental groups, vehicle manufacturers and even a state trucking association.
This coalition is particularly concerned about the Jan. 20 order by new White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card—a former secretary of transportation under the first George Bush—to block implementation of new and pending regulations for 60 days, until the Bush administration can review them.
The coalition is worried that opponents of the diesel sulfur standard will use the extra time to mount a campaign to either block or change the rule. Indeed, the National Petroleum Refiners Association has filed suit in federal court to block the rule, and the NPRA, the International Tire & Rubber Association and others signed a joint letter to new EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, asking her to reconsider the regulation.
Announced Dec. 21 and published in the Federal Register Jan. 18, therule requires a reduction in highway diesel fuel sulfur levels from the current 500 parts per million to 15 ppm by June 2006.
This rule was touted by environmentalists, who claimed it would prevent an estimated 8,300 deaths from respiratory diseases annually, and by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose members want to establish low-polluting, fuel-efficient diesel cars and light trucks in their fleets to meet EPA air pollution standards.
"We need very, very clean fuel to even attempt to get to those standards," said Greg Dana of the AAM at a Feb. 13 press conference.
ITRA, the NRPA and others, however, argue that the rule will cause a steep rise in diesel fuel costs—anywhere from 15 to 52 cents per gallon—and shortages of diesel fuel.
"A more reasonable and balanced approach" to the rulemaking is needed to prevent these problems, according to the letter sent to Ms. Whitman in February.
"Most American goods are shipped by diesel trucks, which means that any supply shortage and resulting cost impacts will be felt throughout the national economy," it stated. The letter´s signatories predicted a 12-percent national shortfall in diesel fuel supply on account of the new rule, with shortages as high as 37 percent in areas such as the Rocky Mountains.
The California Trucking Association, however, believes supply shortfalls will be less likely, not more so, if the rule is promulgated as is. Stephanie Williams of the CTA said Californians already pay much more for diesel fuel than residents of other states, because only five companies have a monopoly over diesel fuel refining there.
"When you restrict the supply of any product, you end up with a boutique business," Ms. Williams said at the Feb. 13 press conference. "That´s how Western petroleum refiners have made their windfall profits.... We have to have one national diesel fuel, and it has to be low-sulfur."