Easter: Now with Less Brimstone! On Good Friday, while Congress wasn’t looking (I’d like to think they filled the copier room with Peeps and dove in), the EPA rolled out its proposal for Tier 3 gasoline regulations. In short, this set of regulations would dramatically reduce allowable sulfur content in gasoline. California’s hippies already have these standards in place–they got an EPA waiver, even though Congress ruled that states couldn’t have their own fuel standards. Tier 3 would bring the rest of the nation in line with theirs.
Great! How much will this cost me? Refineries would take on some cost burden of this, so we can expect a slight rise in the cost of gasoline by 2017. Some estimates say maybe a couple of cents per gallon; others say 6 to 7 cents. But you can drive more miles on lower-sulfur gasoline, so that seems like a wash. Other than that, we can expect a slight increase in prices of vehicles. You’d think vehicle manufacturers would oppose this, but you’d generally be wrong. You usually are, to be fair. They’ve always had to make different vehicles for California, so they’re pretty meh about changing the lines, if not happy.
You might not be happy, though. You’re never happy. The upfront cost estimates range from $1000-4800. That would likely price a whole pile of people out of the cost of a new car. Though it’s pretty clear that the increased vehicle cost will be outweighed by the fact that lower sulfur content increases the life of the vehicle–it will add about 5 years to most types of internal combustion engines–consumers are notoriously bad at balancing out long-term versus short-term costs, because upfront costs are now, and we really like thinking about now, temporal creatures that we are.
What’s good? The health benefits are significant: in terms of air quality, this will be the equivalent of taking 33 million cars off the roads. Politically speaking, these regulations were tentatively discussed in Obama’s first term, but were taken off the table during election season. It’s nice to see them back! Which brings us to our next topic:
Upcoming Appointment and Why You Care: Remember what I said about California having different fuel standards? PAY ATTENTION. Well, fuel economy standards are usually set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, under the authority of Congress. Congress forbids states to make laws related to fuel economy. But the EPA granted California a fuel-economy waiver anyhow.
Why are they allowed to do that, when I can’t bump a rail off a fully-automatic weapon held by a sex worker any time I want? Well, the decision has been affirmed through the good old-fashioned American tradition of lawsuits. The EPA won this year in a federal ruling that says greenhouse gas emissions pose a threat to public health, and the EPA has broad latitude to regulate that sort of thing. So, do we say that greenhouse gas emissions regulations are “related to” fuel economy standards? Well… fuck yeah. But that’s reality, and not the letter of the law. How are we supposed to deal with this? Meanwhile, the Obama administration has nominated Gina McCarthy for head of the EPA in its second term. She testified before the House Oversight Committee that the two are “aligned but different.” That’s not the whole truth, which is a sticking point in her nomination, for me. But, damn, that’s not an easy line to walk.