Less sulfur in gasoline means less tailpipe pollution
Shutterstock / Tyler Olson
Less sulfur in gasoline means less tailpipe pollution.

Oh, tough break for the oil industry. The Obama administration today will propose new rules that will help curb smog by cracking down on sulfur in gasoline.

“This is the first big environmental initiative in the Obama administration’s second term,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

Automakers and everybody who breathes will benefit from the new EPA rules, which will require refineries to produce gasoline containing no more than 10 parts per million of sulfur. The EPA currently allows up to 30 ppm.

Sulfur is a problem in gasoline because it reduces the performance of catalytic convertors. That, in turn, lowers efficiency and boosts tailpipe emissions that contribute to smog and soot.

From The Washington Post:

The proposed standards would add less than a penny a gallon to the cost of gasoline while delivering an environmental benefit akin to taking 33 million cars off the road, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made yet.

Oil industry officials, however, said the cost would be at least double the administration’s estimate and could add up to 9 cents a gallon in some places.

The proposed standards, which had been stuck in regulatory limbo since 2011, would reduce the amount of sulfur in U.S. gasoline by two-thirds and impose fleet-wide pollution limits on new vehicles by 2017.

The Obama administration’s decision to go ahead with the regulations deals a political blow to the oil and gas industry, which had mobilized dozens of lawmakers in recent days to lobby the White House for a one-year delay.

It’s a sad day for the oil companies. Sharing in their misery are congressional Republicans. From Reuters:

Republican lawmakers had tried to stop the rules. Ed Whitfield, the chair of the House Energy and Power subcommittee, introduced a bill last year to stop the EPA from issuing the Tier 3 measures.

But don’t let that get you down — not everybody is bummed.

[H]ealth groups say the rules will cut billions in doctors’ bills. A study released by Navigant Consulting last year said the rules could cut healthcare costs for lung and heart diseases by $5 billion to $6 billion a year by 2020 and double that by 2030. …

The rules are supported by many automakers who want regulatory certainty and for federal rules to be harmonized with strict regulations in California. The Auto Alliance, a group of 12 manufacturers, has said cutting sulfur content in gasoline has side benefits including improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.