EPA grants extension on ultra-low-sulfur diesel sales

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Retailers will have six more weeks to start selling ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel in fall 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced.

The retail compliance date will be pushed back from Sept. 1, 2006, to Oct. 15, 2006, to allow terminals and retail outlets more time to comply, the EPA said.

The mandated fuel contains much less polluting sulfur than normal diesel fuel, 15 parts per million rather than the current standard of 500 ppm.

“Refiners have been gradually lowering the sulfur content,” said EPA spokesman John Millett. “I would anticipate levels well below 100 ppm a year out from the standard.”

The six weeks between Sept. 1 and Oct. 15 also will serve as a transition period, when diesel fuel with a 22-ppm sulfur level can be marketed as ultra low sulfur.

The transition period reflects a concern that the new fuel, when traveling through existing pipelines, might be “contaminated” by old sulfur residues so that it comes out above 15 ppm.

The transition period gives the trucking industry “45 days and 7 ppm of flexibility” to address any problems in adjusting to the change, Millett said.

The EPA also announced it would establish a testing program, in cooperation with the fuel industry, to determine whether its current 2-ppm testing tolerance is sufficient. This will allow the EPA to gauge the accuracy of its monitoring tools, Millett said. “We will be publishing the results in the rule before the end of this year.”

The EPA’s announcements on the sulfur content do not affect the cleaner-burning diesel engines mandated for sale in 2007.

This sulfur content reduction will lower smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions by 2.6 million tons a year and reduce soot or particulate matter by 110,000 tons a year, the EPA said.

The EPA further calculates that these reductions annually will prevent 8,300 premature deaths, 5,500 cases of chronic bronchitis and 17,600 cases of acute bronchitis in children, as well as 1.4 million lost work days, 7,100 hospital visits and 2,400 emergency room visits for asthma.

For more information on the EPA’s diesel rule, visit http://www.epa.gov/otaq/diesel.htm.