EPA's low-sulfur gasoline rules fuel fight with GOP over prices

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday unveiled draft rules on auto emissions and low-sulfur gasoline designed to curb smog-forming, soot and toxic pollution, drawing attacks from Republicans who allege the mandate will increase consumer costs. 

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The agency estimates that by 2030 the rules will annually avoid up to 2,400 premature deaths, 23,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children and other gains, totaling between $8 billion and $23 billion in yearly health-related benefits.

Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe cast the rules, which have faced considerable delays, as a boost to the auto industry and public health that won't hurt consumers. The agency estimates the rule will increase pump prices by less than a penny per gallon.

“The Obama Administration has taken a series of steps to reinvigorate the auto industry and ensure that the cars of tomorrow are cleaner, more efficient and saving drivers money at the pump and these common-sense cleaner fuels and cars standards are another example of how we can protect the environment and public health in an affordable and practical way,” he said in a statement.

The rules have created a collision between automakers who back the standards and oil industry groups who say the mandate to drive down sulfur content in fuels will saddle refiners with billions of dollars in costs.

The new requirements for vehicles and fuels include a mandate that refiners cut the sulfur content of gasoline by more than 60 percent to 10 parts per million in 2017, which is intended to improve the performance of catalytic converters.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) argues the measure will increase the cost of gasoline production by up to nine cents per gallon, for little benefit.

The lobbying group has noted that existing standards have already led to steep reductions in sulfur content.

“Consumers care about the price of fuel, and our government should not be adding unnecessary regulations that raise manufacturing costs, especially when there are no proven environmental benefits,” said Robert Greco, a top API official who works on refining topics.

Several senior Republicans bashed the rules. 

“Increases in gas prices disproportionately hurt the nation’s most vulnerable individuals and families,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyFive potential Trump EPA picks Overnight Energy: EPA stands firm on fuel standards EPA decides not to weaken car efficiency rules MORE, EPA’s top air quality official, will likely face questions about the rules at the Senate hearing on her nomination to lead the agency.

“This move signals a frightening flood of new rules under the potential Gina McCarthy-led EPA and represents one of a litany of likely regulations that require transparency to justify both the costs and the benefits,” said Sen. David VitterDavid VitterPoll: Republican holds 14-point lead in Louisiana Senate runoff Louisiana dishes last serving of political gumbo Trump tweets about flag burning, setting off a battle MORE (R-La.), the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, which will vet McCarthy’s nomination.

Environmentalists cheered the proposed regulation.

“Over 150 million Americans live in areas where air quality poses a significant risk to their health, and our cars and trucks are among the leading sources of harmful air pollution. These revised rules will help prevent tens of thousands of asthma attacks each year, save lives, and reduce healthcare costs,” said Daniel Gatti of the group Environment America.

Automakers have backed the rules.

“Our cleaner cars will need even cleaner fuels like those already sold across Europe and Asia, so we are pleased EPA is proposing lower sulfur fuels,” the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said in a statement.

The group said that that the lower-sulfur fuels are needed to help meet separate rules: The federal greenhouse gas emissions and mileage standards for model years 2017-2025. The auto industry has also said the rules are needed to ensure harmony with California standards.

Perciasepe noted the federal standards will “provide the automotive industry with the certainty they need to offer the same car models in all 50 states.”

The rule will cut various forms of vehicle emissions sharply, according to the EPA, including an 80 percent cut in smog-forming volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, and a particulate matter standard that’s 70 percent tighter.