Science is best argument for new fuel standards

There are few things that transcend political, geographic, and societal divides like science.  No matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you believe, the facts and theorems that form the bedrock of science remain the same.  When we disagree on what should be done, including how to grapple with the emissions our vehicles generate every day, science should be our guide. 

We have come together -- a trade association that represents companies that draw on more than one hundred years of science and process engineering knowledge, and a nonprofit organization that puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems -- to ask that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) let the best-available science determine a new rule updating our national emissions and gasoline standards for passenger vehicles. 

This rule, commonly referred to as the Tier 3 standards, will reduce passenger car tailpipe emissions dramatically and reduce the average gasoline sulfur concentration to a level consistent with the global trend to reduce sulfur in gasoline. 

These new tailpipe and fuel standards are critical because, taken together, they will significantly reduce emissions from the second-largest source of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the United States – the primary pollutants that form smog.  These standards will also substantially reduce carbon monoxide pollution and particulate matter emissions. 

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These proposed standards are based on strong and solid science and are a cost-effective way to reduce emissions from our vehicles.  They will prevent a vast number of health problems that are caused by pollution.  This is especially significant since more than one-third of Americans live in areas that exceed federal health-based standards for air quality. 

With new standards comes innovation.  The auto industry and suppliers of emissions control equipment have the know-how to manufacture the equipment and systems that will reduce vehicle emissions.  They’ve done it before. These industries have provided the technology to meet every emissions reduction goal ever set, and they will do so again. 

And with that innovation come jobs and improved economic prosperity.  A study commissioned by the Emissions Control Technology Association  and authored by Navigant Economics estimated that implementation of the cleaner fuel standard will create thousands of jobs in the operation and maintenance of new refining equipment, as well as more than 24,000 new jobs over a three-year period for equipment installation at the nation’s refineries. 

The Union of Concerned Scientists and our supporters throughout the country have been urging EPA to promulgate standards based on sound science.  Given the myriad  health, environmental, and economic benefits of these standards, it’s hard to see how anyone could reasonably argue against them. 

But the oil companies and their allies in Congress are doing just that; they are strongly opposing Tier 3.   And with rigorous science as the foundation for the standards, these opponents are relying on misleading and discredited data that overestimates the standards’ costs. In fact, complying with these standards would cost U.S. refiners around a penny per gallon of gasoline, according to the same Navigant Economics study. 

Emissions Control Technology Association and the Union of Concerned Scientists are just two among many  health, consumer, labor, manufacturer, scientific and environmental interests that support these standards, but it is the science itself that provides the fundamental support. These standards are a cost-effective, scientifically sound way to reduce vehicle emissions and reap the benefits that come with it. So let’s step on the accelerator, finalize these standards, and help all of us drive cleaner and breathe easier. 

Rest, PhD, MPA, is executive director of Union of Concerned Scientists. Regan is president of the Emissions Control Technology Association.