updated 2/9/2007 1:37:55 PM ET 2007-02-09T18:37:55

Toxic fumes from gasoline, motor vehicles and fuel containers would be cut significantly under new federal rules the Bush administration developed under legal pressure from environmental groups.

The new requirements, to go into effect between 2009 and 2011, would reduce toxic emissions of benzene and other pollutants from passenger vehicles by 80 percent in the next two decades, the government said.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the new rules would toughen benzene standards for gasoline, require cleaner-starting engines in cold temperatures and tighten fuel container standards to reduce the evaporation of harmful fumes.

"Americans love their cars. By clearing the air from tons of fuel and exhaust pollution, President Bush and EPA are paving the road toward healthier drivers and a cleaner environment," said EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

The new rule meets a court order that EPA require refineries to meet an average 0.62 percent benzene fuel limit by 2011, down from the current average of 0.97 percent. The proposal also would create a trading program that would allow refineries to buy emissions credits to meet the new limit, rather than install emissions controls.

Benzene is a highly toxic pollutant that is known to cause cancer, and is one of the worst sources of cancer risk in many parts of the country.

Activists criticize trading plan
While hailing the stricter standards for benzene emissions, some critics attacked the credit-trading program, which they said would allow refineries in some parts of the country to avoid reducing — or even increase — benzene levels in their gasoline.

"Having benzene levels go down in Newark, New Jersey won't do much for the health of people in Portland, Oregon," said Emily Figdor of U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

She and other critics called it disappointing that EPA would "undermine" its own program by adopting the trading plan.

Pacific Northwest lawmakers have complained that because much of the region's gasoline comes from benzene-rich oil from Alaska, its gasoline has nearly twice as much benzene as the national average.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the new regulations would still leave Oregon and Washington residents breathing air with more benzene than in other parts of the country.

Agency explains strategy
The EPA defended the standards. Because benzene levels vary widely from refinery to refinery, a program that required all refiners to reach the same benzene level at the same time would be extremely costly for a large number of refineries, said EPA spokesman John Millett.

By setting a national average, the program provides refiners "a degree of flexibility in the amount of benzene reduction they pursue," resulting in an overall reduction in benzene levels while minimizing extremes in costs, Millett said.

The EPA plan would set new evaporative standards for fuel containers, beginning in 2009. It would require, starting in 2010, that passenger vehicles started up at cold temperatures emit fewer pollutants.

And, by 2011, the agency would require that all gasoline, which is now allowed to contain little more than 1 percent benzene, have only 0.62 percent or less benzene.

Congress required EPA to issue mobile source air toxic regulations by 1995. Two environmental groups, represented by environmental law firm Earthjustice, won a court order in 2005 forcing EPA to issue a preliminary proposal last year and a final rule by Friday.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments