Environmental commissioners from several Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states say that a federal plan to cut tailpipe emissions would improve public health, particularly in cities plagued by traffic congestion.
In a letter sent last week , the state commissioners asked Lisa Jackson, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, to quickly propose and finalize so-called " Tier 3 " emissions standards, a blueprint for cleaner burning cars and light-duty trucks, along with new rules for low-sulfur gasoline.
"Despite a significant and sustained joint state and federal effort spanning more than 40 years, air pollution remains a serious public health threat in our region and across the United States," wrote commissioners from Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, D.C. "Clearly, Tier 3 and low sulfur gasoline is needed to better protect public health."
The EPA began drafting the program in 2008, but the agency has yet to propose it. The slow-moving process has stirred anxiety within some environmental circles.
The standards would cut sulfur levels in fuel by a factor of three. That could reduce smog-forming emissions by almost 500 tons per day across the eastern U.S., according to a study by the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a nonprofit association of air quality agencies. The standards also would cut the release of fine particle pollution into the air, along with chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde — each of which are linked with heart and lung disease.
Those reductions would help states comply with federal air quality standards that would otherwise prove costly to reach, the commissioners wrote.
The resulting cleaner air, the commissioners wrote, would improve health, especially among those living in highly-congested cities where air pollution is most intense. That could amount to millions saved in health-related costs. An EPA data tool estimates the rules would have an annual net health benefit of $235 million to $1.2 billion across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.
The EPA has said it would base vehicle manufacturing standards on those in California. Last week, the California Air Resources Board unanimously approved a package of standards that the board says will cut greenhouse gas emissions 34 percent by 2025 and reduce smog-forming pollution by 75 percent. The rules require that 15 percent of new cars sold in the state by 2025 run on electricity, hydrogen or hybrid technologies.
The EPA has not yet responded to the commissioners' letter, an agency spokesperson told Stateline . "We are still working on the rule," she said in an email. The spokesperson did not respond to questions regarding the program's timeline.
The program does have critics. Earlier this month, a group of six U.S. Senators expressed concern in a letter to the EPA that Tier 3 regulations would increase gas prices while threatening jobs at 147 U.S. oil refineries.