MAY 10, 2004
2:37 PM
Emily Figdor (202) 546-9707 ext. 307
EPA Cracks Down on Diesel Pollution, Garners Rare Applause from Public Interest Groups

WASHINGTON - May 10 - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it will finalize a major rule on Tuesday to cut diesel air pollution from construction, farm, and industrial equipment by more than 90 percent. The rule essentially extends fuel and emission standards adopted in 2000 for new diesel trucks and buses to non-road applications, such as new diesel backhoes, tractors, and heavy forklifts. EPA estimates that, once fully implemented, the new diesel rule will prevent 12,000 premature deaths, 15,000 heart attacks, and 6,000 children's asthma-related emergency room visits each year.

"It's remarkable that these strong rules come from the same administration that has otherwise turned back the clock on 30 years of environmental progress," said U.S. Public Interest Research Group Clean Air Advocate Emily Figdor. "It's great to see science win out over the special interests for a change," she continued.

EPA's new rule requires oil refiners to reduce the poisonous sulfur in "non-road" diesel fuel by 99 percent from its current uncontrolled level of 3,400 parts per million (ppm) to 500 PPM in 2007 and 15 PPM in 2010. After the cleaner fuel is in place (sulfur damages pollution controls), the rule requires most new diesel-powered equipment to meet emission standards for soot and smog-forming pollutants that are 95 percent and 90 percent tighter, respectively, than existing standards. The engine standards phase in from 2008 to 2015.

Even this rule, however, did not escape last-minute concessions to the oil industry, according to a U.S. PIRG analysis. The rule delays cleaning up the diesel fuel used in trains, boats, and ships until 2012—two years later than all other non-road fuel. A recent study by air pollution officials in the Northeast found very high levels of fine particle soot on train platforms and in train waiting rooms. Many of the 150,000 Americans who commented on the diesel proposal asked EPA to clean up marine and locomotive diesel fuel on the same timeline as other non-road diesel fuel.

"After oil industry lobbying, the Bush administration chose to put off until 2012 what should be done today to protect our health," said Figdor.

In 2000, EPA adopted fuel and emission standards to reduce pollution from new diesel trucks and buses by 90 percent by 2010. EPA passed the very first emission standards for new diesel-powered equipment in the mid-1990s, meaning that most equipment in use today is uncontrolled. Under existing standards, a diesel bulldozer manufactured in 2007 could emit 15 to 30 times more soot and 15 times more smog-forming pollutants as a new diesel truck.

Diesel exhaust is a likely human carcinogen. A 2002 U.S. PIRG report found that diesel pollution accounts for 89 percent of the total cancer risk from air pollution nationwide. Today's diesel engines also release large amounts of soot and smog-forming pollutants, which are linked to serious respiratory, heart, and lung diseases, such as asthma and bronchitis, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and premature death. In addition, these pollutants obscure visibility in national parks and pollute lakes and forests with acid rain.

This action stands in stark contrast to the Bush administration's otherwise dismal environmental record, noted Figdor. On air pollution alone, the administration has reversed its campaign pledge to support a mandatory cap on power plant emissions of carbon dioxide, broken a decades-old promise codified in the Clean Air Act that old, coal-fired power plants install modern pollution controls when making other life-prolonging modifications, proposed delaying mercury protections promised in the Clean Air Act by at least 10 years, and proposed deferring visibility improvements in national parks for another 15 years, among other harmful actions.

"Several very dedicated staff championed this rule doggedly within EPA to achieve this result, and we applaud their efforts," noted Figdor.