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Thursday December 21 5:05 PM ET Clinton Diesel Rules Likely to Be Challenged

By Julie Vorman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Clinton administration said Thursday it would curb the sooty particles spewed from diesel-powered trucks by requiring cleaner fuel, an action U.S. refiners plan to fight because of the cost and potential for supply shortages.

The new rules, which take effect in 2006, are aimed at cleaning up the air for children, the elderly and others with asthma and respiratory ailments.

President Clinton (news - web sites) said the rules capped off a series of actions by his administration to tighten pollution restrictions on tailpipe emissions and sport utility vehicles.

``Together, these measures will preserve our environment and protect thousands of children from the agony of asthma and other respiratory diseases,'' Clinton said at a ceremony to sign an appropriations bill.

``By the end of the decade, because of these steps, every new vehicle sold in the United States will be up to 95 percent cleaner than those rolling off the assembly line today,'' the president said, adding that the rules show ``we can grow the economy and improve the environment at the same time.''

The stricter rules prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency have been vigorously opposed by U.S. oil refiners, who said they will ask President-elect George W. Bush (news - web sites) and Congress to amend the rules and delay the effective date until 2008.

Under the new restrictions, American refiners will have to reduce sulfur in diesel fuel to 15 parts per million by 2006, compared to a current level of 500 parts per million.

But oil, trucking and retailing groups warned the rules will mean higher diesel prices and fewer supplies.

Oil Industry To Challenge Rules

Costs to make the cleaner fuel mean the pump price of diesel fuel could jump by 15 cents a gallon, much higher than the EPA's estimate of 5 cents, industry officials said.

And some refiners are likely to simply stop making diesel instead of paying to upgrade facilities -- a move which could take as much as 320,000 barrels per day of diesel out of the market.

Bob Slaughter, general counsel for the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, said his group wants Bush, a former Texas oilman, and Congress to raise the allowable diesel sulfur level to around 50 parts per million.

``Clearly, they have a right to take a second look at it,'' Slaughter said. Raising the sulfur levels to 50 parts per million would save refiners billions of dollars in upgrading their facilities, he said.

Those higher costs would flow through to consumer goods because the vast majority of all U.S. freight is moved by truck, said a coalition of 16 trade groups representing everything from American foodmakers to bus companies.

The groups, led by the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, blamed other government regulations for boosting the price of gasoline, heating oil, electricity and natural gas.

``EPA's extreme, costly, and technologically unjustified diesel rule will make it even harder to keep the nation well supplied with the affordable energy that consumers and the economy require,'' the coalition said in a statement.

Under the new EPA rules, vehicle manufacturers will need to retool diesel engines for heavy-duty trucks and buses in order to cut emissions by more than 90 percent by 2007.

Bush was expected to nominate New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman for the post of EPA administrator. Whitman led a move to preserve a million acres of open space in New Jersey, but she also slashed the state's Department of Environmental Protection budget from $200 million to $168 million in her first term.

Green Groups Say Strict Rules Needed

Green groups praised the rules as a key step in cleaning up the air for those with asthma, bronchitis and other breathing ailments. Diesel engines have been blamed for spewing out 100 times more sooty particles than comparable gasoline engines.

Environmentalists also said they were bracing for a fresh fight over the rules.

``The real question now is whether the new administration will defend this bold cleanup plan against expected oil industry-led attacks in Congress and in the courts,'' said Frank O'Donnell, director of the Clean Air Trust.

The World Health Organization (news - web sites) and the California state environmental protection agency have determined diesel exhaust and particulates may cause cancer. Scientists say the nitrogen oxide emissions also contribute to smog and acid rain.

``The decision to cut diesel exhaust is perhaps this administration's biggest improvement in air quality safeguards, in terms of the potential for saving lives,'' said Carl Pope, director of the Sierra Club. ``Children with asthma will be able to spend more time outdoors. The elderly and people with respiratory problems will be able to breathe easier.''

The new rules are the latest in a series of tougher air pollution measures spearheaded by EPA Administrator Carol Browner during her eight years as head of the agency.

-- Rachel Gibson (, December 21, 2000


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