Tough non-road diesel rule cuts sulfur 99 percent

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, May 11, 2004 (ENS): Tractors, crawlers, skidders, loaders, backhoes, excavators, snowplows - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Leavitt today finalized a rule to cut more than 90 percent of harmful emissions from the diesel engines used in these agricultural and industrial pieces of equipment that do not travel on public highways.

The announcement of the final non-road diesel rule earned the Bush administration rare praise from environmentalists and public health advocates.

"It is remarkable that these strong rules come from the same administration that has otherwise turned back the clock on 30 years of environmental progress," said U.S. Public Interest Research Group Clean Air Advocate Emily Figdor. "It is great to see science win out over the special interests for a change."

The new regulation will remove 99 percent of the sulfur in the diesel fuel used by these engines by 2012 and forces the industry to use cleaner engines by 2014.

The rule is similar to regulations set by the Clinton administration and currently being implemented for diesel engines that power on-road vehicles.

Non-road diesel engines are a major contributor to the nation's air pollution, spewing out large amounts of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. These pollutants cause respiratory illness and are linked to thousands of premature deaths each year.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the cost of cleaner diesel fuel and tighter emissions controls are outweighed by the benefits to public health and the environment by a ratio of 40 to one.

The new rule cuts the sulfur content in non-road diesel fuel from the current average of 3,400 parts per million (ppm) to 500 ppm in 2007 - the same standard as current highway diesel fuel.

The rule calls for this standard to be further tightened to 15 ppm by 2010, but gives diesel trains, boats and ships until 2012 to meet the final standard.

The decision to give those sectors an additional two years drew some criticism from environmentalists otherwise pleased with the final rule.

"With an opportunity to score a slam dunk, at the last minute the Bush administration committed an unnecessary foul," said Frank O'Donnell of the Clean Air Trust. "There was literally no reason to postpone that cleanup other than to appease campaign contributors from the oil industry."

Industry arguments that cleaning up the fuel for those sectors on the timetable set for the rest of the non-road diesel industry would be too expensive appear "pretty hollow in light of recent reports of very healthy oil company profits," O'Donnell said.

Diesel locomotive and marine engines are a major source of pollution - the EPA says they comprise more than 25 percent of fine particle soot from all non-road diesel engines.

The availability and use of cleaner fuel will enable the second component of the EPA's plan, which is the requirement that new engines meet tighter emissions standards for nitrogen oxides and particulate matter by 2014.

The new standards will cut these emissions, which form smog and soot, by more than 90 percent.

The cleaner non-road engine standards do not cover the marine and train sectors - today the EPA will announce a rulemaking process to set those standards.

The EPA estimates that by all non-road diesel engines in use will meet the new standards by 2030 and predicts major health benefits.

By 2030, controlling non-road diesel emissions would annually prevent 12,000 premature deaths, 8,900 hospitalizations, and one million lost work days, according to the agency.

"This rule will help protect seniors, children and people with lung diseases including asthma, who are the most vulnerable to the harm from air pollution," said John Kirkwood, president and CEO of the American Lung Association.

"According to the American Lung Association 'State of the Air: 2004' report, more the one in four Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of particle pollution. Exposure to particle pollution leads to premature death. The clean up of non-road diesel is necessary to protect public health."

The non-road rule will not be easy for the industry to implement, but it is "firmly committed to continuous progress and a cleaner environment," said Allen Schaeffer, president of The Diesel Technology Forum, an industry group that represents manufacturers of engines, fuel and emissions control systems.

EPA officials say they worked closely with industry groups to mitigate the economic impact of the rule.

According to industry figures there are more than six million pieces of equipment powered by nonroad diesel engines and some 650,000 new pieces are sold each year.


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