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Clearing the Air on Diesel Fuel

Environment: A forced conversion to alternative fuels is not the answer to eliminating pollution.

March 17, 2000|ROGER TRUITT | Roger Truitt is president of Arco Products Co

Drive the freeways of Southern California and it's clear that our air is cleaner, thanks in part to tougher air emissions standards, improved automotive technology and innovative fuel reformulations.

Cleaner-burning gasolines and lower-sulfur diesel fuel, in particular, have contributed greatly to this collaborative effort to help reduce air pollution.

Demanded by environmentalists, legislated by government, implemented by industry and embraced by citizens statewide, this massive movement aimed at reducing mobile-source air pollution has produced real and measurable results. Air quality in the Los Angeles Basin is the cleanest, clearest and best it has been in 30 years, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Often blamed for a large share of our air pollution problems, diesel fuel has come under increased scrutiny lately by air quality advocates. Many have even gone as far as to demand its elimination from the marketplace, touting alternative fuels as a better solution. Unquestionably a more expensive proposition, the idea has drawn considerable attention, particularly with legislators and regulators under pressure from the alternative-energy lobby.

A forced conversion to alternative fuels, like natural gas, is not the answer. The conversion of existing truck, bus and van fleets to an entirely new fuel would require these fleet operators to incur substantially higher costs. An increase in maintenance expenses would result from these conversions. In addition, a new and expensive refueling infrastructure would have to be developed.

In the end, the consumer would bear the brunt of most of these new expenses through higher costs of goods and services or through higher taxes.

Simply stated, the elimination of diesel is an unreasonable, uneconomic and politically motivated solution to a problem that begs for logical reasoning, not an emotional over-reaction.

We need public policies based on sound science and economics. As an industry, we say legislate and regulate standards, not products. Make the standards as tough as need be, but make those standards fair. Don't set obstacles that would arbitrarily discriminate against diesel.

Diesel fuel needs to be cleaner. Yet low-sulfur diesel, combined with catalytic exhaust control technology, can meet or beat alternative fuels in reducing emissions and cleaning our air. What's more, it can do the job more practically and at a lower cost to the consumer. And there is environmental support for it. The Planning and Conservation League, a statewide environmental group, has said that producing low-sulfur diesel is an important part of the mix of fuels and technologies necessary to guarantee clean and healthy air for California.

Ironically, the practicality of diesel fuel has become a driving force in the effort for fleet operators to meet regulated emission standards. The operators of Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus see low-sulfur diesel as a realistic and obtainable means of lowering emissions of its existing fleet.

Most diesel fuel end-users agree that retrofitting their existing fleets with catalytic exhaust devices (or purchasing new diesel vehicles with after-treatment) and using low-sulfur diesel would be as effective and more affordable than buying new equipment or engines that run on alternative fuels.

We expect the diesel industry, trucking companies and mass-transit fleet operators will see this challenge to diesel fuel as a wake-up call--an opportunity to once again demonstrate their resourcefulness in meeting public health and air quality issues head on. Low-sulfur diesel, with catalytic exhaust control technology, is an important step in an ongoing effort to clean up our air.

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