Environmental Defense Praises EPA's Decision To Support Clean Air Program

February 28, 2001

Today US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christine Todd Whitman announced that EPA will implement a ground-breaking program to slash dangerous air pollution from large diesel trucks and buses in communities across the country. The program was announced on December 21, 2000 by Carol Browner, the EPA Administrator under former President Bill Clinton, and was the product of an extensive public regulatory process pre-dating the Bush Administration. A January 20, 2001 Memorandum from President Bush’s Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, to Cabinet Members raised questions about the new administration’s implementation of the new standards.

“This program will clean up one of the most noxious sources of air pollution in our communities,” said Environmental Defense senior attorney Vickie Patton. “Leading national and international public health agencies have consistently found that diesel exhaust is hazardous; this clean air program will help protect the millions of Americans that are exposed to unacceptable levels of the dirty exhaust from large diesel trucks and buses every day.”

The new emission standards at issue have two core components: (1) dramatically tightening particulate and nitrogen oxides emission standards for large diesel trucks and buses beginning in model year 2007, and (2) requiring cleaner low sulfur diesel fuel to power the clean air technologies that are needed to meet the new emission standards and protect public health, to be phased in beginning in 2006.

Clean Air Benefits. Large diesel trucks and buses emit about 2.6 million tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and about 140,000 tons of inhalable particulates each year. Several public health organizations including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the World Health Organization, and the California EPA have determined that diesel exhaust or the particulates in the exhaust are a potential or probable human carcinogen. The Department of Health and Human Service’s National Toxicology Program recently issued its Report on Carcinogens (9th edition) in which it classified diesel exhaust particulates as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” NOx emissions also have harmful effects, contributing to unhealthy smog levels in communities across the country, acid rain in sensitive ecosystems, and pollution of premier coastal fishing and recreational waters.

Cleaner Highway Diesel Fuel a Technology Enabler. Cleaner highway diesel fuel that is low in sulfur content is a critical component of EPA’s emission standards. EPA’s program limits the sulfur levels in highway diesel fuel to 15 parts per million, by phasing in requirements in a manner designed to allow refineries considerable flexibility in producing the cleaner fuel. Previously, the allowable sulfur content for highway diesel fuel was 500 parts per million, and the actual average levels outside of California are about 340 parts per million. High sulfur levels can seriously impair the new pollution control devices needed to remove pollutants that pose a threat to public health.