New Standards for Cleaner Cars and Air

On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed cleaner fuel and car standards that would greatly reduce pollution levels, improve Americans’ health and lead to widespread adoption of more efficient vehicles. The new standards would reduce the volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides that lead to smog by 80%, reduce particulate matter by 70% and reduce fuel vapor emissions almost entirely. The anticipated health benefits would be major, with up to 2,400 premature deaths avoided each year and 23,000 less cases of respiratory ailments in kids. Put another way, the agency estimates that the standards will save $7 in health care costs for every $1 spent to implement them.

The standards will help individual states to reduce their smog and soot levels, prevent bad air days and improve public health and they include some flexibility for small businesses including “additional lead time for compliance.”

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley responded in a statement: “The new motor fuel standards proposed today by the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama’s leadership will help Maryland reach its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020. Reductions from mobile sources are one of the most important strategies needed to provide clean air to Maryland’s citizens for generations to come. Today’s actions will also provide a significant benefit to the Chesapeake Bay as approximately one-third of its nitrogen issues are caused by air pollution.”

Other governors in states battling dirty air have also applauded the standards. Connecticut Governmor Dannel P. Malloy said: “In Connecticut, we are taking action to show that we can have a strong economy and a healthy environment, and the new standards for motor vehicles and fuels announced today by EPA are consistent with our approach. I applaud EPA’s help taking on the most significant source of air pollution—cars, trucks and other so-called mobile sources—and look forward to prompt finalization of the rule so we all breathe cleaner air.”

Even vehicles built before the new standards would stand to benefit, thanks to the inclusion of sulfur reduction in gasoline. Once in place in 2017, every state would follow the clean car and fuel standards set by California.

While the EPA notes that the proposal would add just 1 cent per gallon to gas costs, oil industry officials claim it could raise prices by 2 cents per gallon on average, and as much as 9 cents per gallon in some areas, according to a story in the Washington Post.

Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the new rules would present a financial hardship and force the U.S. to import more oil from abroad. But even auto companies support the regulations, preferring national sulfur standards. California sets the limit of sulfur in gasoline to 10 parts per million; the other 49 states allow sulfur up to 30 parts per million. The new standards would bring all states to California’s level. Because sulfur makes catalytic converters less effective, it causes them to produce more harmful emissions and particles that contribute to smog and soot.

“The only ones against these standards are the oil companies,” Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, told NBC News.