Feds Tighten Fuel and Car Emissions Standards

Starting in 2017, the amount of sulfur in gasoline will be slashed by 60 percent, under newly finalized EPA rules.

Traffic stacks up on the 110 Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles, Calif., in February 2013.

Traffic stacks up on the 110 Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles, Calif., in February 2013. The EPA finalized new rules Monday, March 3, 2014, to reduce vehicles’ tailpipe emissions starting in 2017.

By + More

Breathe easy.

The Environmental Protection Agency finalized tighter fuel standards for motor vehicles Monday, continuing an initiative to curtail greenhouse gas emissions that President Barack Obama has made a centerpiece of his second term.

Starting Jan. 1, 2017, the amount of sulfur in gasoline will be reduced by more than 60 percent, particulate-matter by 70 percent, and nitrogen-oxides by 80 percent, the EPA said.

“These standards mean fewer asthma attacks, fewer emergency room visits…less exposure to cancer causing chemicals,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a call with reporters Monday. “We’re addressing an environmental justice issue.”

[STUDY: Study: Flood Risk in Europe Could Double by 2050]

The new limits will affect the fuel refineries that provide gasoline, and apply to passenger cars, light-duty trucks, medium-duty passenger vehicles and heavy-duty vehicles. Some refineries will have until 2020 to meet the new requirements, McCarthy said.

The new rules are expected to add about $72 to the cost of new vehicles, and about 0.65 cents to each gallon of gasoline, the EPA said, an estimate disputed by the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group.

“The annual compliance cost is $2.4 billion, equating to a potential cost increase of between 6 cents and 9 cents per gallon of gasoline produced,” API said in a statement, referring to a study it commissioned in March 2012.

McCarthy dismissed that figure, calling it “an outdated estimate,” based on “what they thought we might be proposing, never mind what we proposed and what we finalized.”

[READ: Generators Will Soon Make Electric Grid an "Antiquated System"]

A General Motors executive, joining McCarthy on Monday’s call, said the new rules actually represent a boon for automakers by “harmonizing” various state and federal emissions standards — most notably, tighter emissions limits that were instituted two years ago in California.

“That’s a big deal for us,” said Mike Robinson, GM’s vice president for sustainability and global regulatory affairs. “That allows us to engineer, build and calibrate vehicles on a national basis.”

He added: “Automakers really need cleaner fuels to achieve the lower emissions that our vehicles are capable of.”

Environmental advocates also praised the announcement.

“These standards will clean our air, protect our health and save money,” National Resources Defence Council analyst Luke Tonachel said a statement. “EPA resisted extensive pressure from big oil companies to issue standards that will save thousands of lives.”