EPA's new standards for gasoline sulfur would drastically reduce smog from car exhaust and bring US in line with other countries

The Obama administration announced new gasoline rules on Friday that are intended to clean up smog in car exhaust.

The proposed new standards for gasoline sulfur would drastically reduce smog, soot, and dangerous emissions from car exhaust, the Environmental Protection Agency said.

It said the new rules would also make it easier for the auto industry to meet tougher standards for tailpipe emissions from new cars.

The new rules would also help the US meet global standards. Refineries in Europe, Japan and California are already operating on or moving towards the new lower sulfur standards.

"The Obama administration has taken a series of steps to reinvigorate the auto industry and ensure that the cars of tomorrow are cleaner, more efficient and saving drivers money at the pump," the EPA's acting administrator, Bob Perciasepe, said.

The proposed new standards would require refiners to reduce gasoline sulfur levels by more than 60%, down to 10 parts per million by 2017. That would bring new cars into line with standards adopted by California's clean cars programme, the EPA said.

The agency also said the new standards would have public health benefits. About a third of Americans live in neighbourhoods where air pollution is higher than government limits.

"Today's proposed standards – which will save thousands of lives and protect the most vulnerable – are the next step in our work to protect public health and will provide the automotive industry with the certainty they need to offer the same car models in all 50 states," Perciasepe said.

The new gasoline rules were meant to work in tandem with the EPA's other efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, starting in 2017.

The new rules on gasoline sulfur had initially been expected in 2011, but were held over until after the presidential election to avoid any potential damage to Barack Obama's re-election prospects.

Campaign groups were briefed about the announcement in advance. There was virtually uniform support for the move.

"This is a stellar encore to the fuel efficiency main act," Michelle Robinson, director of the clean vehicles programme for the Union of Concerned Scientists said. "Together, these standards represent the largest step in our nation's history toward reducing harmful emissions from the vehicles we drive every day."

Refinery groups argued however that the new rules would add nearly 10 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas.

The proposed new rules will be subject to public comment before they are adopted, later this year.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

[Tailpipe emissions photo via Shutterstock]