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Clean Car Standards (Tier 3)

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Clean Car Standards (Tier 3)

car trafficWhy Clean Car standards are needed: Over 150 million Americans breathe unhealthy air, and a major source of this pollution is passenger and heavy-duty vehicles.

  • Living, working, or going to school near major roadways increases exposure to ozone and particle pollution that:
    • triggers asthma attacks
    • worsens lung and heart health and
    • causes thousands of premature deaths every year.  
  • On average, Americans spend over an hour traveling along roads every day.  Being on or near roadways  increases exposure to high concentrations  of “criteria” pollutants (particulates, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead) and toxic pollutants, over 50% of  which are attributable to gasoline vehicles. 

What Clean Car standards do:  The proposed standards would lower sulfur levels from 30 parts per million (ppm) to 10 ppm in gasoline and make emissions requirements more stringent for new vehicles starting in 2017.  Cleaner burning cars and lower sulfur gasoline will emit lower tailpipe emissions, which will help us breathe easier and help regions throughout the country stay below unsafe air pollution levels for ozone and particulate matter.  By addressing gasoline and vehicles as a “system” instead of in isolation, emissions reductions can be achieved more cost-effectively.

Costs and Benefits: The standards will likely add less than $150/vehicle in 2025 and 1 cent/gallon to gasoline costs.  However, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs.  By 2030, the annual health benefits would be between $8 and $23 billion (double to 7 times the costs).  Some of the benefits include preventing:

  • Between 820 and 2,400 premature deaths
  • 3,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits
  • 22,000 asthma exacerbations and
  • 23,000 upper and lower respiratory symptoms in children every year. 
  • The benefits for cleaner air and a cleaner environment are significant. In 2030, when 80 percent of the passenger vehicle fleet would consist of Tier 3 vehicles, the standards will cut:
    • Smog precursors (NOx and volatile organic compounds) by 25%
    • Carbon-monoxide emissions by 30 %
    • Air toxics (including benzene) by 10-40%   

It would be “pennywise, tons foolish” to save a cent on gasoline, only to have to pay even more with our health as a result of additional pollution.

Benefits for vehicle owners:

  • Current car owners will benefit from cleaner gasoline even without buying a new car.  Lowering the sulfur content in gasoline:
    • cleans up exhaust from older cars
    • reduces corrosion of emissions control systems for existing vehicles and
      • increases the lifespan of catalytic converters, which can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars  to replace.
      • Lower maintenance costs.  The proposed rule offers automakers an incentive to go beyond the minimum 8 year/80,000 mile warranty currently required for emissions control systems and extend it to 15 years/150,000 miles, which could improve reliability and lower costs to maintain emissions control system for consumers buying new vehicles.
      • Cheaper fuel economy technologies.  Low-sulfur gasoline enables automakers to develop a greater array of technology, such as lean- burn, to meet emissions and fuel economy standards more creatively and cost-effectively. 

Putting it in perspective: The oil industry is fighting this rule by claiming it will cost too much (the industry estimates a cost of 6-9 cents/gallon).  The oil industry’s cost estimate is likely way too high, and EPA and independent analyses peg the likely cost at around one cent/gallon.

  • The current United States’ sulfur standard for gasoline lags behind 46 other countries.
  • Many refineries already make low-sulfur gasoline to comply with California’s standard and for export to regions that have a low-sulfur fuel standard, including the EU, Japan, and South Korea.
  • When the Tier 2 standards lowered sulfur levels in gasoline from 300 ppm to 30 ppm, the increased cost per gallon was negligible, even though EPA had estimated it might cost up to 2 cents/gallon.  

Consumers can help lower their fuel costs by changing their driving styles.  One cent per gallon is nearly imperceptible compared to how much money is wasted on gasoline by speeding, aggressive driving, carrying unnecessary weight, or failing to maintain proper tire pressure.  Check out the chart below to examine how much the average driver will save from new fuel economy standards.



For more information, contact Shannon Baker-Branstetter, Policy Counsel at Consumers Union at 202-462-6262.

Clean Car Standards (Tier 3) fact-sheet
5 News Stories on Clean Cars
EPA Plan for Cleaner Emissions
CU comments to EPA on control of air pollution from motor vehicles