The state Air Resources Board on Friday expanded standards for producing cleaner-burning diesel fuel to 10 small Southern California refiners but gave them 3 1/2 years before they must comply.
The standards, which took effect last January for larger refiners, limit sulfur levels to 500 parts per million. Smaller refiners were not covered by the rule, and they typically produce diesel fuel with more than 4,000 ppm.
Small refineries account for about a third of the diesel fuel used in Southern California. Jan Sharpless, Air Resources Board chairwoman, said the move will help make the region's air healthier.
However, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley accused the board of being too slow to protect the public health.
"All we have seen is foot-dragging, and all we have are empty promises," Bradley said Thursday in advance of the Air Resources Board's action. "The ARB is supposed to protect the public, not the economic concerns of the industry."
Air Resources Board spokesman Bill Sessa said the agency had indicated last February that it would adopt a rule at its April hearing imposing the tougher standard on smaller refiners. However, he said when the refiners came forward in April with new information on the rule's costs, the board delayed its action until Friday in order to review the data.
Sharpless argued that the 3 1/2-year delay will give small refiners time to remodel their facilities or plan installation of cleanup technology. She added that when the board imposed the sulfur rule on big refiners in 1981, they were also given 3 1/2 years to comply.
Sharpless said the board is ending the exemption because diesel pollution poses health problems.
"These sulfur-bearing particles can damage tissue deep in the lung system and can pose a special threat to asthmatics and others who suffer from respiratory disease," she said.
The Air Resources Board action affects the following refineries: Edgington, Fletcher, Golden Eagle, Golden West, Lunday-Thagand, MacMillan, Newhall, Paramount, Powerine and USA-Petrochem.