Clean diesel review panel reaches agreement on technical issues

Sept. 26, 2002
The American Petroleum Institute and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association endorsed the work of an independent clean diesel panel.

Maureen Lorenzetti
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 26 -- The American Petroleum Institute and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association Sept. 25 endorsed the work of an independent clean diesel panel that is reviewing technology trends related to the US Environmental Protection Agency's 2006 highway low-sulfur diesel regulations.

"We are encouraged that the panel heard some of the significant industry concerns about potential supply and distribution problems related to the 2006 highway diesel rule," the associations said in a joint statement. "We are equally encouraged that EPA will participate in workshops with all involved parties, including the refining and engine manufacturing industries, to consider these concerns more fully as we approach actual implementation of this rule."

Fuel suppliers unsuccessfully urged EPA to expand the scope of the independent panel beyond reviewing technology issues related to the 15 ppm low-sulfur diesel standard (OGJ, Aug. 5, 2002, p. 25). The latest panel draft does acknowledge some refiners' concerns over the impact the rule may have on distribution, but it also stresses that the majority of the panel concluded that those issues were outside the scope of the panel's charter and would be addressed at a separate EPA workshop.

Final report Oct. 30
A final report will be presented to the EPA Clean Air Act Advisory Committee Oct. 30.

Other panelists included refiners, environmental pressure groups, state air regulators, and engine manufacturers.

Before the final meeting this week some refiners threatened to reject an earlier panel draft report. Company officials said they were concerned the group's focus solely on technology was misguided because supply and distribution concerns could also have a major impact on the way the rule is implemented. Industry earlier this year lost a court case in which refiners sought to overturn most of the EPA rule, which became final in January 2001.

But this week engine manufacturers facilitated a compromise that led to a revised document later unanimously accepted by the panel.

In its latest draft, which is still subject to technical editing and minor corrections, the panel found that, from a technology standpoint, engine manufacturers expect to have emissions-compliant products by 2007. Refiners also anticipate being on target for meeting fuel specifications, although some panel members stressed that technical challenges remain for both fuel and automakers.

To address refiners and marketers' supply-related issues, EPA will hold an industry workshop in Houston this November (OGJ, Sept. 23, 2002, p. 25).,

Meanwhile, environmental groups and state air pollution regulators said they are happy the panel reached a consensus on the technical report. And they said they looked forward to more cooperation from industry as EPA considers related regulatory efforts, including an anticipated nonroad diesel fuel rule.

"We were pleased the petroleum industry representatives played a very constructive role in the panel's work, and we hope that same constructive spirit will continue as EPA moves to clean up nonroad diesel engines and fuel," said Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Trust.

Down the road
Following a brief presentation to the group Sept. 24, EPA Assistant Administrator Jeff Holmstead said the agency remains committed to the highway diesel rule.

With regard to off-road issues, Holmstead the agency is "working actively" with the White House's Office of Management and Budget over the potential use of market-based averaging, banking, and trading programs that might include permission to trade emissions-reduction credits between off-road and highway engines. Sulfur would be one of the pollutants that could be "banked" or "traded."

Holmstead also said states will be consulted over the impact the proposal might have on heating oil, which is outside of EPA's direct regulatory authority and typically has very high sulfur levels.

Environmental groups, however, have already derided the proposal, saying that offering a banking and credit scheme will undermine compliance for the final highway rule.