updated 7/1/2005 11:59:32 AM ET 2005-07-01T15:59:32

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing cutting pollution by as much as 90 percent from electrical generators, compressors, agricultural pumps and other equipment powered by stationary diesel engines.

The agency’s proposal, announced Thursday, would require companies to produce cleaner-burning diesel engines for use in such equipment starting in 2007. Engine owners would be expected to use diesel fuel that contains no more than 500 parts per million of sulfur starting that year, then switch again to fuel with no more than 15 ppm of sulfur in 2011.

Currently, some types of diesel fuel used in off-road vehicles and some stationary equipment can contain up to 5,000 ppm of sulfur.

The changes were proposed in accordance with a court settlement with New York-based advocacy group Environmental Defense, whose 2003 federal lawsuit in California argued the federal standards were long overdue. The EPA’s first proposal, in 1979, was never finished.

“Reducing the pollution from diesel exhaust is one of the single most important steps that can be taken to protect human health from harmful air pollution,” said Jana Milford, a senior scientist with Environmental Defense.

Her group’s statement said the proposal would close “a critical gap,” because existing stationary diesel engines discharge pollution at levels 10 to 20 times those that national emission standards would allow for their mobile counterparts.

A similar rule issued last year was intended to cut pollution by more than 90 percent from off-road vehicles and equipment such as forklifts, tractors and tugboats.

The new proposal “is really the continuation of applying the clean diesel system to all categories of diesel machines and vehicles,” said Bill Buff, spokesman for the Diesel Technology Forum, an industry group for engine makers, refiners and manufacturers of pollution-control devices.

“It started with trucks and buses, which in January 2007 are going to be 98 percent cleaner than back in the late ’80s.”

About 100,000 new stationary diesel engines made each year would be affected by the new proposal. An estimated 600,000 stationary diesel engines are now being used, more than half of them for electrical generators.

The rule is intended to cut tens of thousands of tons of smog-forming chemicals, fine particles and soot annually, which are blamed each year for increases in respiratory illnesses and thousands of premature deaths. Children, the elderly and people suffering from asthma are considered especially vulnerable.

A big exception was made for diesel engines in emergency backup generators used by apartment and commercial buildings, hotels, banks and other businesses concerned about power outages, said Mark MacLeod, Environmental Defense’s director of special projects.

Those engines are typically used only a couple of hours a month to make sure they still operate reliably, he said.

Several states, including Texas and California, previously adopted emission standards for stationary engines. The Senate voted last week to provide a $1 billion fund for grants and loans to cut pollution from existing diesel engines.

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