The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released updated Tier 3 vehicle emissions and fuel standards. The new standards are an update to the successful Tier 2 performance standards, which were finalized in 2000. Like the legacy Tier 2 program, the new Tier 3 standards will look at vehicles and fuels as a combined system to reduce both tailpipe pollution and gasoline sulfur content, improving urban air quality and saving billions of dollars in healthcare costs. Despite Tier 3’s projected benefits, lawmakers, and oil industry groups insist the standards are too costly. Of course, they fail to count the lasting health benefits from Tier 3—which more than outweigh the cost of the program.
The new fuel standards will instantly reduce emissions from every vehicle on the road once they are implemented in 2017, by reducing the amount of sulfur permitted in gasoline to 10 parts per million. Furthermore, the new vehicle tailpipe standards will cut smog-forming emissions by over 20 percent and fine particulate matter by 10 percent by 2030. EPA projects these vital emissions reductions will prevent between 770 and 2,000 premature deaths, 2,200 hospital admissions, and 19,000 asthma attacks annually by 2030, providing approximately $6.7 – $19 billion in annual health benefits. All of these benefits come at the low cost of less than one additional cent per gallon of gasoline, or about $72 per vehicle.
With over 19 million cars and trucks on the road, Texas stands to benefit a great deal from Tier 3 standards. Reducing vehicle tailpipe emissions has the strongest health impact locally, so states, like Texas, with crowded roadways will benefit the most from the new standards. For years, a number of Texas cities have struggled to overcome persistent summertime smog. Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston have all received failing air quality grades from the American Lung Association (ALA) in the past. With Tier 3, Texas will see a marked improvement in urban air quality between now and 2030, saving the state billions in public health costs.
The Opposition’s Rhetoric
The American Petroleum Institute (API), a trade association representing the oil and gas industry, called the gasoline sulfur standards “costly and unnecessary.” Perhaps it’s no surprise that a parade of lawmakers has come out in support of API’s position. Texas’ own Congressman Lamar Smith slammed the gasoline sulfur standards, calling them “costly new regulations.” While the oil industry has criticized these common sense health protections, however, the standards have drawn support from the automotive industry, which praised Tier 3’s compatibility with California’s existing standards and overall public health benefits.
We’ve heard the same excuses from the oil industry before. When the Tier 2 standards were finalized in 2000, industry insisted they would cause fuel prices to skyrocket above EPA’s estimates. Those claims proved to be false. Industry raised the same objections to EPA’s Clean Diesel Program. In fact, EPA’s standards opened up new market opportunities for international exports by bringing American fuels closer to European and other international standards.
We shouldn’t be fooled by the oil industry. When the health benefits are objectively compared to the costs of implementing Tier 3, it’s clear that the regulations will pay for themselves many times over. Only someone who ignores the benefits would dismiss Tier 3, as the oil industry and lawmakers have. I, for one, look forward to breathing cleaner air!