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EPA Calls for Trucks, Buses to Be Smoke-Free by 2007

Energy: New standards for cleaner diesel fuel unveiled by Clinton administration would dramatically reduce emissions. Oil companies oppose plan.


New heavy-duty trucks and buses would be virtually smoke-free by 2007 under sweeping national standards for cleaner diesel fuel and engines unveiled Wednesday by the Clinton administration.

The new pollution limits would dramatically reduce the truck and bus emissions that are major sources of California's two worst air pollutants--smog and particle soot.

The highlight of the proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency--and its most controversial and costly aspect--is a 97% cutback in the sulfur content of diesel fuel.

Oil companies are vehemently opposed, with their trade group warning Wednesday that the requirement could lead to severe fuel costs and shortages.

The new fuel standard has "potential to seriously affect supplies, adversely affect U.S. consumers and harm the U.S. economy," said Red Caveney, president of the American Petroleum Institute.

However, diesel engine manufacturers, California trucking companies and environmentalists praised the standards as reasonable and necessary to protect people from pollutants that threaten their health.

"This proposal is truly historic," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the environmental group Clean Air Trust. "It will finally mean the end of the big, horrible, smoke-belching truck as we know it."

EPA Administrator Carol Browner said in Washington that once the plan takes effect, buses and trucks would be "cleaner than the natural gas buses on the road today."

The proposed regulation is expected to become final this fall, before President Clinton leaves office, Browner said. The EPA, which does not need congressional approval to enact the plan, will hold five hearings for public comment next month, including one in Los Angeles on June 27.

California usually sets the course for cleaning up vehicle emissions, but with heavy-duty trucks, a national regulation is considered vital because they spend much of their time traveling between states.

About 25% of truck emissions on California roads come from vehicles registered out of state.

Big rigs and buses have long been some of the least-controlled sources of air pollution in the United States, largely because of technological difficulties in cleaning up their exhaust. An old diesel big rig engine can spew almost 8 tons of pollution per year or 240 tons in its lifetime. Major engineering advances, however, have allowed manufacturers to build cleaner diesels that can meet the new standards.

Manufacturers of truck and bus engines, including Cummins, Detroit Diesel and International Truck and Engine Corp., have faced intense pressure to clean up diesel engines to avoid regulations that would require alternative technologies such as natural gas.

"We are in support of the standards. It's the right thing to do," said Glenn Keller, executive director of the Engine Manufacturers Assn. "We think this clean diesel technology is going to be the panacea for the future in getting to the lower [pollution] levels we need."

The focus on diesel is the second prong of the Clinton administration's policy to tackle air pollution. Tighter emission standards for cars were announced last year.

President Clinton said Wednesday that although air pollution has declined over the past quarter-century, "stronger action is needed to protect public health and keep us on track to meeting our nation's air quality goals."

The new standards, he said, "would produce the cleanest trucks and buses ever, significantly reducing smog, soot and other pollutants that contribute to asthma and other respiratory disease."

According to EPA estimates, the reformulated diesel fuel would cost 3 to 4 cents more per gallon, and the price of a new heavy-duty truck, currently around $150,000, would rise by about $1,500. Oil companies say the fuel price hike could be 10 cents a gallon.

Under the EPA plan, beginning in June 2006, sulfur in diesel fuel would be limited to 15 parts per million, compared with the current limit of 500 parts per million. The cleaner fuel would allow manufacturers to equip diesel engines with catalytic converters and soot traps, which clog up if fuel contains more than a trace amount of sulfur.

Nitrogen oxides from a new diesel engine would decrease 95% and particulates 90%, compared with the existing standards for 2004 models.

Nitrogen oxides combine with hydrocarbons to form ozone, the main ingredient of smog. Particulates in diesel exhaust are ultra-fine pieces of soot linked to cancer and deaths from lung and heart ailments. The particles are responsible for the smoke spewed by trucks and buses.

New trucks would have to meet the new particle limits in 2007, but manufacturers would be allowed to phase in the nitrogen oxide standards between 2007 and 2010. Existing vehicles would not have to be equipped with the new devices.

The emission controls on large engines would be required to endure for 435,000 miles, which Keller of the engine group said "is a very stringent hurdle for us to achieve."

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