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EPA proposes tighter fuel emissions

The EPA announced proposed requirements for better built fuel cans, cleaner-starting engines in cold temperatures and a nearly 40 percent cut in benzene in gasoline to cut air toxics.

The government wants better built fuel cans, cleaner-starting engines in cold temperatures and a nearly 40 percent cut in benzene in gasoline to cut air toxics associated with gasoline.

The new requirements would go into effect between 2009 and 2011 under a proposal Wednesday by the Environmental Protection Agency, making federal standards similar to California’s evaporative emission standards for light-duty vehicles.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said that within the next two dozen years, air toxics such as benzene and other hydrocarbons would fall to 80 percent below 1999 emissions. That would be a direct result of the new proposal and the fuel and vehicle standards already in place.

“By cleaning up our fuels and vehicle exhaust, EPA is paving the road toward a cleaner environment and healthier drivers,” he 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.

Critics back plan
Traditional critics of Bush administration environmental policies were quick to praise the plan.

Frank O’Donnell, president of the Clean Air Watch advocacy group, called it “a positive step toward reducing the cancer risk that Americans face from breathing chemicals in the air produced by cars, SUVs and pickup trucks.”

“It is not, however, a substitute for other needed pollution control measures, including steps — and federal money — to clean up existing diesel engines,” he added.

Bill Becker, the executive director for the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials, said the plan was long overdue. EPA issued it to meet court-ordered deadlines in a lawsuit brought by two environmental groups, the Sierra Club and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, in 2004.

“The proposal is a good first step in regulating benzene, a known carcinogen, and other important hazardous pollutants that are emitted from vehicles and fuels,” he said. “These pollutants show up in almost every major metropolitan area in the country in quantities that exceed safe levels.”

Lawsuit led to proposal
Congress required EPA in the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act to issue mobile source air toxic regulations by 1995. The two environmental groups, represented by environmental law firm Earthjustice, won a court order in November 2005 forcing EPA to issue its proposal by the end of February and a final rule by 2007.

Requiring cleaner-burning gas and cars and tighter fuel containers will cost consumers an estimated $205 million at dealers’ lots and other stores, though cost per vehicle is thought to be just $1 more and per gas can less than $2, EPA said.

But the agency estimates the annual health benefits from cutting fine particle pollution that causes respiratory and other illnesses will be $6 billion a year starting in 2030.

Existing fuel and vehicle standards that also are contributing to fewer emissions of benzene and other toxic air pollutants are EPA’s latest tailpipe standards and cuts in emissions from diesel-burning cars, heavy trucks and off-road equipment.