White House, EPA unveil anticipated diesel fuel plan

June 12, 2002
The White House's Office of Management and Budget plans to take an expanded role in crafting updated pollution rules designed to lower emissions from diesel-powered, nonroad vehicles.

Maureen Lorenzetti
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, June 12 -- The White House's Office of Management and Budget plans to take an expanded role in crafting updated pollution rules designed to lower emissions from diesel-powered, nonroad vehicles, according to a June 7 statement by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

A draft statement from the two agencies was obtained by Oil & Gas Journal May 31; the subsequent June release by EPA was nearly identical in tone (OGJ Online, May 31, 2002).

The new EPA statement says the proposal being developed will evaluate not only new emissions-control devices that would be required for new engines but also the reductions in sulfur levels that are likely to be needed to enable the control systems to operate effectively.

The agency said, "This comprehensive systems approach is similar to that taken for the heavy-duty diesel highway rule for trucks and buses that takes effect in the 2006-07 timeframe."

EPA plans to publish a formal proposal for public comment early next year.

Onroad trading system
EPA officials said their agency and OMB will collaborate on the design of an "innovative" regulatory analysis to support the development of regulatory strategies to reduce emissions from nonroad diesel engines. Among other things, this analysis will consider: the use of incentives to encourage the early introduction of "clean" emissions-control technologies and low-sulfur diesel fuel; the potential use of market-based averaging, banking, and trading programs that might include permission to trade emission-reduction credits between offroad and highway engines, thereby stimulating more emissions reductions at less cost; the additional emissions reduction benefits that can be achieved from existing offroad diesel engines through the use of very-low-sulfur diesel fuel; and how risks, benefits, and costs might vary by type of offroad engine and geographical location of use.

Analysis and decision-making under this agreement will fully comply with both the Clean Air Act and Presidential Executive Order 12866 on regulatory planning and review, EPA said.

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman will supervise this collaborative effort. She asked that day-to-day leadership be provided by Jeffrey Holmstead, EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation, and John D. Graham, administrator, OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Optimism and damnation
This latest attempt by President George W. Bush to streamline environmental rules was met with cautious optimism from industry and loud damnation from environmental groups.

"Given the significance of the new regulatory programs facing the refining industry and the billions of dollars of costs of those programs, an innovative new approach could be very useful if it achieves the desired environment benefit in a more cost-effective manner, but we'll have to wait and see," said Bob Slaughter, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, said the Bush plan could permit diesel engine-makers to "trade emission-reduction credits" rather than produce cleaner trucks and buses.

"This industry-friendly plan is a Trojan horse," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust. "In the guise of a cleanup plan, it would actually permit industry to evade the tough diesel truck standards set by the Clinton administration."

O'Donnell's comments came as state and local air pollution regulators unveiled a new report that claims health caused by emissions from non-road diesel engines.

The report concluded that tough emissions and fuel controls on these so-called "nonroad" diesels could prevent more than 8,500 premature deaths and 180,000 asthma attacks a year.

Engine makers at odds
Diesel engine manufacturers, meanwhile, are at odds over the issue. Nonroad diesel engines are already subject to regulation, but the standards are weak, environmental groups claim.

According to EPA, there are several million of these engines now in use nationwide, most in the construction, mining, farm, and airport service sectors.

Under a 1998 consent decree signed by engine-makers and the Department of Justice, the companies agreed to accelerate the timetable under which they would meet tougher diesel pollution standards from 2004 to October 2002 or pay noncompliance penalties.

One engine-maker, Cummins Engine Co. Inc., received official EPA certification this spring for a diesel engine that met the new clean air standards. Some but not all diesel engine companies are expected to receive a similar EPA stamp of approval in the near future.

Caterpillar Inc. has been seeking a delay in the standards, arguing the technology is still inefficient and could mean dramatically higher fuel costs, an assertion EPA has rejected in the past.