Bigger Is Better: Texas-Size Benefits From Tier 3

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collected final comments on the proposed Tier 3 vehicle emission and fuel standards. EPA is expected to finalize the standards by the end of the year, enabling automakers to gear up to meet the standards. The anticipated standards, which go into effect in 2017, will reduce the amount of sulfur in U.S. gasoline and tighten emission controls on new passenger vehicles going forward.

These standards will reduce the amount of sulfur in U.S. gasoline and tighten emission controls on new passenger vehicles going forward. With over 19 million cars and trucks on the road, Texas stands to benefit a great deal from the new vehicle regulations.

The American Lung Association’s (ALA’s) 2013 State of the Air report revealed the grim state of air quality in the Lone Star State, placing both Houston and Dallas in the top 10 most ozone-polluted cities in the country. In total, 15 Texas counties received a grade of “F” for ozone pollution. Despite these findings, we believe that Texas has the potential to reduce air pollution throughout the state, and that the EPA’s proposed Tier 3 vehicle emission rules will help.

The ALA’s primary recommendation to address excessive air pollution comes in the form of new regulations on vehicle tailpipe emissions. Unlike power plants and larger industrial facilities, tailpipes release their emissions at ground level in densely populated areas. Thus, busy roadways are an especially hazardous source of air pollution. Many roadways stand as a round-the-clock source of nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide and particulate matter. This puts those who live or work near highways and expressways at greater risk.

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If you’ve been to Houston, you know that an unsettling number of Houston residents live or work near some of the busiest highways in the United States. This includes students at dozens of primary and secondary schools located within 200 meters of major roads in the Houston metro area (see the map on the left). In many ways, these students are at greater risk for respiratory problems caused by excess tailpipe emissions. Airborne pollutants from roadways contribute to thousands of asthma attacks and other emergency room visits each year—not to mention 1.8 million missed school days and work days. On top of that, scientists are finding new links between air pollution and ailments, such as heart disease, cancer and even autism.

The science behind the dangers of tailpipe pollution is clear. Now, we have effective policy in the EPA’s Tier 3 standards to reduce the harm caused by these emissions. The new standards will reduce non-methane organic gases and nitrogen oxides released from light-duty vehicles by approximately 80 percent. At the same time, the standards will reduce per-vehicle particulate matter emissions by 70 percent. The standards will also place new limits on gasoline sulfur content, bringing national gasoline standards to the levels already in place in California, Europe, Japan, South Korea, and several other countries. Added to these benefits, the EPA projects that Texas will see some of the greatest ozone reductions of any state once the rules are finalized.

Yet another benefit is that the Tier 3 standards are among the most highly cost-effective air quality control measures currently available. The new regulations on gasoline sulfur content would cost consumers just about one penny per gallon. New emissions controls required to meet tailpipe standards would cost about $130 per vehicle and would provide between $8 and $23 billion in annual health benefits by 2030.

In absence of any effective standards on tailpipe emissions from our state regulators, Texans should embrace the new standards proposed by the EPA. The new standards were carefully crafted through an engaged stakeholder process, including domestic and international automobile companies, to provide the greatest benefit for Americans at least cost. The last time the EPA laid out new tailpipe emissions regulations was in 2000. It’s time for us to modernize vehicle standards and improve the health of all Americans, Texans included.


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