Bicoastal Decision

EPA Upholds RFG requirement in California, New York, Connecticut

Published in CSP Daily News

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will reject petitions made by California, New York and Connecticut to waive the oxygen content requirement for reformulated gasoline (RFG).

Congress has required the use of oxygenates as part of the clean fuels program and has made it clear that this requirement can only be waived if a state demonstrates that it prevents or interferes with the state's ability to meet national air quality standards. California, New York and Connecticut did not make this demonstration, said Assistant Administrator [image-nocss] of Air Jeff Holmstead.

RFG is a cleaner-burning gasoline required by the Clean Air Act to be used in certain metropolitan areas of the United States with the worst ozone air pollution. It has been used since 1995 and continues to be a highly effective strategy to reduce harmful emissions from motor vehicles that cause ozone, commonly called smog. RFG also reduces emissions of harmful toxics, such as benzene.

The Clean Air Act also requires RFG to contain 2% oxygen by weight. The law does not specify which oxygenate must be used and most refiners use either ethanol or MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether). RFG sold in California, New York and Connecticut, however, contains only ethanol, since each state has banned the use of MTBE due to water contamination concerns.

The EPA's action follows an extensive review of the information submitted by each state in support of its petition, it said. This is the EPA's second response to California, which sued the EPA after the agency denied the state's original petition in 2001. The current decision was made after the EPA reviewed new information submitted by California and after the EPA scientists and engineers conducted additional analysis to address the 9th Circuit Court's decision to vacate the agency's original denial, it said.

While the EPA said it agrees with California's claim that an oxygen content waiver would lead to a decrease in certain vehicle emissions that contribute to the formation of smog and particulate matter, it said it concludes that the overall impact on emissions is slight. The agency found that total volatile organic compound (VOC) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are likely to decrease with a waiver while carbon monoxide (CO) emissions are likely to increase.

The EPA's denial of California's petition is based on the lack of evidence proving that the emission impacts of a waiver would lead to any earlier attainment of the air quality standards for smog or particulate matter than would occur without a waiver, it said. California has not demonstrated that the oxygen content requirement prevents or interferes with the state's efforts to achieve clean air, the agency said.

It found that neither New York nor Connecticut submitted the technical data necessary for the agency to determine what impact the waiver would have on emissions and air quality. Without this information, the EPA could not evaluate whether the oxygen content requirement prevents or interferes with attainment of the smog or particulate matter standards, and therefore said it must deny the waiver request.

The administration supports efforts by Congress to remove the oxygen requirement from the RFG program and replace it with a flexible national renewable fuels program, the EPA said. This legislation would provide California, Connecticut, New York and other RFG areas the relief they are seeking through these waiver requests without compromising the benefits of clean fuel, said Holmstead.

For more information on this action and the national RFG program, click here.

Separately, to facilitate the transition to the ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel, the EPA announced plans last week to issue a rule later this year that will take two actions. The first action will shift the retail compliance date from Sept. 1 to Oct. 15, 2006, to allow more time for terminals and retail outlets to comply with the 15-parts per million (ppm) ULSD standard.

During this extended transition period, diesel fuel meeting a 22-ppm level can be marketed as ULSD downstream in order to speed the transition. This action will help ensure nationwide transition to 15-ppm ULSD prior to the introduction of new clean diesel trucks and buses.

The second action will establish a test program, in cooperation with the fuel industry, to collect the data necessary to determine if the current 2-ppm testing tolerance is sufficient.

These transitional items will not interfere with the planned introduction of clean diesel vehicles and engines anticipated in the autumn of 2006, the EPA said, nor will they reduce the environmental benefits that will be achieved by the Clean Diesel Program.

For more information on the Heavy-Duty Highway rule, click here.