Wednesday, May 12, 2004

EPA approves off-road air rules


Diesel-fuel smog problem targeted

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday approved new rules that will eventually reduce the amount of air pollution coming from diesel-fueled vehicles at construction sites, farms, train stations and the nation's waterways.

The new rules are aimed at reducing the amount of emissions from "off-road" diesel engines, which account for one-fourth of all the smog-causing nitrogen oxide and nearly half of the fine soot, according to the EPA.

Smog is a known lung irritant that aggravates asthma. Particulate matter, or tiny unburned particles of heavy metals, are even more dangerous because they are breathed deep into the lungs, scarring tissue and causing reactions that range from coughing and wheezing to heart attacks and death.

The new rules will:

• Reduce the amount of sulfur in diesel fuel for those engines in two steps, the first by 2007 and the second by 2010. Currently, diesel fuel for off-road equipment has a sulfur content of about 3,400 parts per million (ppm). The first reduction will be to 500 ppm, and the second to 15 ppm.

• Force manufacturers to make cleaner-running engines. Those new engines must be phased into the market between 2008 and 2014, with larger equipment requiring bigger engines getting more time.

Similar sulfur reductions are required in locomotive and marine vessel engines by 2012.

EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt signed off on the new laws Tuesday. He likened the new rules to the decision in the 1970s to remove lead from gasoline.

EPA statistics show that the new rules, when fully implemented, will remove some 738,000 tons of nitrogen oxide (which causes smog) from the air every year. Particulate matter, fine pieces of heavy metals and other hazardous chemicals, will be cleaned from the air by 129,000 tons annually.

The EPA estimates there will be 8,900 fewer hospitalizations, 15,000 fewer heart attacks and 12,000 fewer premature deaths every year once the new rules begin cleaning the air.

Steve Marquardt, an environmental engineer with EPA's Region 5 office in Chicago, said the cleaner-running engines will add between 1 percent and 3 percent to the cost of purchasing such machinery. The cleaner-burning fuel will add about 7 cents per gallon to the cost of diesel fuel.

The federal government recently enacted new rules that will force states to reduce the amount of smog in the air. A similar tightening for particulate matter is coming in December. States have three years to come up with plans that will get them into compliance with the tougher standards by 2009.

"This is part of the federal guys doing their part by giving a national rule that helps (states) address the new standards," Marquardt said. "This will reduce the need for local controls."

But the Ohio Environmental Council said the new rules won't really help Ohio meet those standards. Because of the long life of most diesel engines, the full effects of the new rules won't be realized until 2030, said Staci Putney, Clean Air Associate with the environmental group.

"Voluntary incentive programs should be established to encourage cleaning-up of diesel fleets within Ohio," Putney said.

The Associated Press contributed. E-mail dklepal@enquirer.com




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