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EPA’s Tier 3: Transportation Overreach

“Nothing in the Clean Air Act says EPA needs to promulgate any of these rules. But nothing says it can’t do so. It’s largely discretionary, and this Administration is determined to ‘interpret’ the science and use its executive authority to restrict and penalize hydrocarbon use – and ‘fundamentally transform’ America.”

President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency has already promulgated a tsunami of 1,920 regulations (Heritage Foundation: forthcoming). Many will bring few health or environmental benefits but impose high economic and unemployment costs, often to advance the Administration’s decidedly anti-hydrocarbon (aka anti-industrial-growth) agenda.

The Heritage Foundation has calculated that his EPA’s twenty “major” rulemaking decisions (costing $100 million or more annually) alone could cost the United States over $36 billion per year.

Cleaning Up Clean

The latest example involves a third layer (or tier) of rules that the agency says will clean the nation’s air and save lives, by forcing refineries to remove more sulfur and other impurities from gasoline. EPA and refiners call the proposal Tier 3 rulemaking. Tier 3 tyranny is more accurate – as the rules would cost billions of dollars but bring infinitesimal benefits, and will likely be imposed regardless.

Since 1970, America’s cars have eliminated some 99% of pollutants that once came out of tailpipes. “Today’s cars are essentially zero-emission vehicles, compared to 1970 models,” says air pollution expert Joel Schwartz, co-author of Air Quality in America. Such makes a mockery of Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren, who back in the 1960s and 1970s declared the urban smog problem unsolvable with oil-based transportation.

In addition, Schwartz notes, more recent-model cars start out cleaner and stay cleaner throughout their lives. “As a result, fleet turnover has been reducing on-road emissions by an average of about 8 to 10 percent per year.” Over time, that has brought tremendously improved air quality, and continues to do so.

Moreover, since 2004, under Tier 1 and 2 rules, refiners have reduced sulfur in gasoline from an average of 300 ppm to 30 ppm – a 90% drop, on top of previous reductions. Those benefits are likewise ongoing. Using EPA’s own computer models and standards, a recent ENVIRON International study concluded that “large benefits in ground-level ozone concentrations will have accrued by 2022 as a direct result” of Tier 1 and Tier 2 emission standards and lower gasoline sulfur levels” that are already required by regulation.

By 2022, those existing emission reduction requirements will slash volatile organic pollutants by a further 62%, carbon monoxide by another 51% and nitrous oxides 80% more – beyond reductions achieved between 1970 and 2004.

Calculable Cost; Infinitesimal Benefits

But even this is not enough for EPA, which now wants sulfur levels slashed to 10 ppm – even though the agency’s models demonstrate that Tier 3 rules, on top of these earlier and ongoing reductions, would bring essentially zero air quality or health benefits.

To achieve those zero benefits, the new Tier 3 standards would cost $10 billion in upfront capital expenditures and an additional $2.4 billion in annual compliance expenses, the American Petroleum Institute says. The sulfur rules will raise the price of gasoline by an estimated 6-9 cents a gallon, on top of new fuel tax hikes and gasoline prices that have rocketed from $1.79 to $3.68 per gallon of regular unleaded over the past four years.

These and other hikes will ripple throughout the economy, affecting commuting and shipping, the cost of goods and services, the price of travel and vacations. (White House and EPA officials claim the Tier 3 rules would only add only a penny per gallon to gasoline costs, but that is highly dubious.)

These and other hikes will ripple throughout the economy, affecting commuting and shipping, the cost of goods and services, the price of travel and vacations. (White House and EPA officials claim the Tier 3 rules would only add only a penny per gallon to gasoline costs, but that is highly dubious.)

Time-Out Needed

EPA believes the additional sulfur reductions are technologically possible. Its attitude seems to be, if it can be done, we will require it, no matter how high the cost, or how minimal the benefits.

Citizens need to tell EPA: “The huge improvements to date are enough for now. We have other crucial health, environmental, employment and economic problems to solve – which also affect human health and welfare. We don’t have the financial, human or technological resources to do it all – especially to waste billions on something where the quantifiable health benefits payback is minimal, or even zero.”

Moreover, there are better ways to reduce traffic-related urban air pollution. Improve traffic light sequencing, to speed traffic flow, save fuel, and reduce idling, emissions, driver stress and accidents, for example. That’s where our efforts should be concentrated.

Another basic problem is that EPA always assumes there is no safe threshold level for pollutants – and pollution must always and constantly be ratcheted downward, eventually to zero, regardless of cost.

This flies in the face of what any competent epidemiologist knows: the dose makes the poison. There is a point below which a chemical is not harmful. There are even chemicals which at low or trace quantities are essential to proper operation of our muscular, brain and other bodily functions – but at higher doses can be poisonous. There are also low-level chemical, radiation and pathogen exposures that actually safeguard our bodies from cancer, illness and other damage, in a process known as hormesis.

Even worse, this Tier 3 tyranny is on top of other highly suspect EPA actions. The agency has conducted illegal experiments on humans, used secret email accounts to hide collaborations with radical environmentalist groups, and implemented 54.5 mpg vehicle mileage standards that will maim and kill thousands more people every year, by forcing them into smaller, lighter, less safe cars.

EPA also expanded the ethanol mandate to promote corn-based E15 fuels (15% ethanol in gasoline). That means we must turn even more food into fuel, to replace hydrocarbons that we again have in abundance (thanks to fracking and other new technologies). But our government won’t allow us to develop, and to substitute for cellulosic ethanol that doesn’t exist (but EPA tells refiners they must use anyway). So corn farmers get rich, while consumers pay more for gasoline, meat, fish, eggs, poultry and other products.

Climate Canard

The agency is also waging war on coal, automobiles and the Keystone XL pipeline – based on assertions that carbon dioxide emissions are causing “dangerous manmade global warming.”

Even the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, NASA, British Meteorological Office, and many once-alarmist scientists now acknowledge that average planetary temperatures have not budged in 16 years. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts and sea level rise have shown no statistically significant variation from century-long averages – even as CO2 levels have “soared” to 395 ppm (0.0395% of Earth’s atmosphere).

True scientists increasingly recognize solar and other complex, interconnected natural forces as the primary drivers of Earth’s ever changing and unpredictable weather and climate.

These inconvenient truths have apparently had no effect on Administration thinking. Perhaps rising indoor CO2 emissions from larger EPA and White House staffs have “weirded” their thinking. The EPA’s yellow brick road to Eco-Utopia is not one our nation should travel. It will not take us to an economic recovery, more jobs, a cleaner environment, or improved human safety, health and welfare.

Conclusion

Nothing in the Clean Air Act says EPA needs to promulgate any of these rules. But nothing says it can’t do so. It’s largely discretionary, and this Administration is determined to “interpret” the science and use its executive authority to restrict and penalize hydrocarbon use – and “fundamentally transform” America.

EPA administrator nominee Gina McCarthy says EPA will “consider” industry and other suggestions that it revise greenhouse gas and other proposed rules. However, neither she nor the President has said they will modify or moderate any policies or proposals, or retreat from their climate change agenda.

We clearly need some science-based legislative standards, commonsense regulatory actions, and adult supervision by Congress and the courts. Unfortunately, that is not likely to be forthcoming anytime soon. Neither Republican Senators nor the House of Representatives seem to have the power or attention span to do what is necessary. Where this all will end is therefore anyone’s guess.

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Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green Power – Black Death.

4 comments

1 Steven { 04.15.13 at 6:28 am }

It’s all about zero fossil fuel emissions and a return to pre-industrial CO2 levels. It’s all about UN Agenda 21. Read it and all about it and the dots will connect.

2 JohnInMA { 04.15.13 at 8:51 am }

Many very good points here. I would add that the ‘surprising’ 16-year lull in global average temperatures has inspired new theories and reinvigorated old appeals. I’ve recently read that the lull could be explained by the potential that the world’s seas have been absorbing some of the thermal energy, potentially to be released at some unpredictable time in the future, catalyzed by any known and unknown events. (Deliberate use of conditional words.) And it seems that there is a renewed push to bring the ‘ethical’ argument to the forefront. I think it goes something like this: Even if the we aren’t 100% certain, do we not have an ethical obligation to millions and millions of people, wildlife, and large amounts of habitat to take precautionary measures? We must err on the side of life and not money. Act now! It is the only ethical choice! Or something…….

I would quibble with your statement about the impact of mileage standards. For me, the argument that they “will maim and kill thousands more people every year, by forcing them into smaller, lighter, less safe cars…”, is more alarmist than real and comes off as weak. It’s too easy to attack with data, especially from regions like Europe or Japan where smaller cars have been the norm for a long time, and it gives those who champion the mileage standards something to dispute to obscure other more valid points. There are plenty of new approaches to engine technology regarding efficiency. Relying on the idea that the path MUST include smaller, flimsy cars is more political speak than anything else. Even if it comes from automakers or their spokespeople or lobbyists. (Does it?)

3 Roger Caiazza { 04.15.13 at 7:18 pm }

I agree completely with:
At some point citizens need to say, “Current improvements are enough for now. We have other crucial health, environmental, employment and economic problems to solve – which also affect human health and welfare. We don’t have the financial, human or technological resources to do it all – especially to waste billions on something where the payback is minimal, or even zero.”

I would add please show me how the improvements in air quality have led to quantifiable health benefits. Surely if we have reduced ambient air quality by an order of magnitude and from levels above the ambient air quality standards to levels below the original limits and at least close to the newer limits, then EPA should have a tremendous story to show improvements in health impacts. That they still rely on epidemiological models instead of the observations suggests that the projections are over-blown.

4 JohnInMA { 04.16.13 at 11:35 am }

Roger Caiazza – I’ve spoken to a medical researcher in the past regarding the shift to justifying ‘climate change’ reaction costs to ‘externalities.’ His opinion was that the field will most likely never be able to accurately put a real cost based on causality. To use your words, the use of epidemiological models is the best approximation we have. A simple analogy on the study of black lung for miners was offered. Although it was and still is possible to assign a direct causal relationship in some cases of disease and death, it isn’t possible in all cases. Predicting the onset of symptoms, or estimating longevity (point of death) is improved, but still imprecise. Explaining the absence of the disease for equivalent or higher exposure is also imprecise. Many environmental and genetic factors are commingled. At best, as precautions were taken, as fewer miners were exposed over time, etc., a positive outcome can be estimated, reporting a high and a low based on confidence intervals.

That is a case of direct and chronic exposure. Anyone who assigns a discrete number to power generation ‘externalities’ is either faking it or simply spinning.

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