updated 5/10/2004 3:15:16 PM ET 2004-05-10T19:15:16

The Environmental Protection Agency announced regulations Monday aimed at cutting pollution from diesel-powered farming and construction equipment and other off-road machinery by more than 90 percent over the next six years.

The EPA regulation, which will be formally signed Tuesday, requires refiners to nearly eliminate sulfur in diesel fuel used in construction, farming and other off-road activities by 2010 and for use in large ships and locomotives by 2012.

As a result of the cleaner fuel and the ability to build cleaner engines the amount of smog-causing chemicals and fine soot from such vehicles and machinery is expected to be reduced by more than 90 percent, according to the EPA.

Off-road machinery and vehicles — used in construction, farming, industrial practices and at airports — account for a quarter of all the smog-causing nitrogen oxide and nearly half of the fine soot from mobile sources.

Fine soot and smog are blamed for increases in respiratory illnesses and thousands of premature deaths annually. Children, the elderly and people suffering from asthma are especially vulnerable.

Rule requires less sulfur in diesel
The EPA previously moved to reduce emission from large, diesel-powered trucks.

Separately, on Tuesday the EPA also will propose sharp reductions in pollution from large ships and locomotives by requiring that diesel fuel used in those engines also be nearly sulfur-free.

The tougher diesel requirements for off-road vehicles and machinery were proposed a year ago.

EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt was scheduled to brief President Bush on the new diesel requirement and other air pollution control issues at a meeting Monday at the White House.

Under the final rule Leavitt will sign Tuesday, refiners will have to cut sulfur in diesel to 500 parts per million within the next three years and to 15 parts per million by 2012.

The amount of sulfur in diesel fuel used in construction, farming and other off-road activities currently is unregulated and can be found as high as 3,400 parts per million, according to government and industry estimates.

The new diesel requirements will have “substantial air quality and public health benefits” and “play a key role in helping states and localities meet health-based air quality standards,” said Bill Becker, executive director of associations that represent state and local air pollution control officials.

Even activists happy
"Environmentalists, otherwise sharply critical of the Bush administration on air pollution issues, applauded the EPA’s action on diesel fuel.

“It’s remarkable that these strong rules come from the same administration that has otherwise turned back the clock on 30 years of environmental progress,” said Emily Figdor of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a grass-roots environmental advocacy group.

There are more than six million pieces of off-road diesel equipment in operation, from large earth movers and farm tractors to small trucks and airport baggage carts. There are an estimated 650,000 such vehicles and equipment sold annually.

Sulfur-laden diesel causes air pollution control equipment to malfunction. The new low-sulfur fuel requirements will make it possible for manufacturers to build cleaner diesel engines and comply with new EPA engine standards that will begin to be phased in by 2008.

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