Bush administration prepares stricter off-road diesel rules

Heavy construction equipment and other off-road, diesel-powered vehicles will have to meet stricter emission standards and use low-sulfur fuel under proposed rules the Bush administration plans to unveil this spring.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to send its proposal to the White House in January, and the final rule is slated to come out in 2004.

EPA officials are considering two plans for implementing the new rules. The first would require refiners to cut the sulfur content of diesel fuel from its current level of 3,000 parts per million to 15 ppm by 2007. Manufacturers would have to reconfigure diesel engines beginning in 2009 with more effective devices to remove particles from exhaust. The second “two-step” approach calls for refiners to reduce sulfur content to 500 ppm by 2007 and 15 ppm by 2010. The new engine emission standards would begin in 2010 or soon after.

“At this point, we are leaning toward the two-step approach,” Jeff Holmstead, EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, told the New York Times.

Government officials say the new rules would prevent more than 8,000 premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of respiratory illnesses each year. But the regulations would also add billions of dollars to the operating costs of engine makers, oil refiners and those who buy heavy equipment.

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman acknowledged those costs recently, but said the health benefits would far outweigh the costs.

Opponents of the proposed rules say they would drive some refineries out of business, creating diesel fuel shortages, hurt engine manufacturers and burden diesel equipment consumers with new costs.

EPA officials have discussed the possibility of an emissions credit trading system to defray costs and increase flexibility, but warn the details of such a plan have not been worked out.