Clean air advocates urge Bush administration to keep new diesel rules

Posted: Thursday, February 15, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Vehicle manufacturers and clean air advocates came together Tuesday in Washington, D.C. to urge the Bush administration to stand behind new rules requiring clean diesel fuel.

''These standards are good for health, good for business and they're good for America,'' Frank O'Donnell of the Clean Air Trust said at a news conference.

The new federal fuel standards would allow no more than 15 parts of sulfur per million parts of diesel in highway vehicles. The current standard is 500 ppm. The new standards go into effect in 2006.

An Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman says the diesel regulations will be reviewed.

Coalition members said they are afraid the Bush administration will cave to pressure from refiners, who filed suit Feb. 2 to stop the new rules.

''This is no time to turn back,'' said Brian Whalen, vice president of International Truck and Engine Corp., which plans to build trucks that need the new sulfur fuel to meet separate new emission standards.

Alaska's highway communities would have to start using the clean fuel in 2006 but the state will be allowed to develop a transition plan for villages.

Villages have a problem because most only get barge shipments once or twice a year and store both highway and non-highway fuel in the same tanks. Only highway fuel has to meet the new sulfur standards.

Under the new rules, the villages would not be able to mix such diesel, requiring expensive, separate storage tanks and barge deliveries. The state's transition plan is due by April 2002.

The National Petrochemical and Refiners Association filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Feb. 2, asking for a review of the rules.

The rules will cause a 12 percent average shortfall nationwide in diesel supplies in 2006, the association said. Refineries in some areas will close because they will not be able to afford equipment necessary to make the cleaner fuel, it said.

''Given current concerns about energy supplies, we must find a responsible path to diesel sulfur reduction -- one that doesn't encourage refinery closures,'' NPRA President Urvan Sternfels said in a news release.

The Bush administration announced a 60-day moratorium on rules issued in the last days of the Clinton administration. Clean Air Trust members hope the Bush administration will not include the diesel rules in that edict.

Bob Slaughter, general counsel to the NPRA, said refineries are committed to clean diesel but already are installing equipment to clean sulfur from gasoline, also with a 2006 deadline.

''It's just impossible for the industry to desulfurize 100 percent of the national diesel pool while we're doing the gasoline desulfurization,'' he said.

Refineries can't get the permits, the engineers and the construction help to do both, he said.

The EPA estimates that diesel prices will increase by 5 to 6 cents per gallon to cover the cost of desulfurization equipment. But the shortages coming in 2006 will drive prices up by 15 to 50 cents, just as gasoline shortages did in the Midwest this past summer, Slaughter said.

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