The Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday issued its timetable for the conversion of engines used primarily by construction and agricultural machinery that will begin in 2008 and be fully phased in by 2014.
"Coupled with the 2007 diesel rule for highway trucks and our school bus retrofit program, these actions will be the most far-reaching diesel programs in the world today," said EPA Administrator Christine Whitman.
The rules aim to cut off-road emissions of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 99 percent at the end of the phase-in period, primarily by using new engine technologies and cleaner-burning fuel that will require another round of modifications at U.S. refineries.
"Less sulfur in off-road diesel fuel is crucial to cutting emissions," said Marc Meteyer, a fuels specialist with the American Petroleum Institute. "These are substantial reductions that will require substantial investments from refiners. The phased-in approach makes it possible."
Higher annual retooling costs that refiners would face by speeding up the conversions would be passed on to consumers, however the EPA's proposed timetable should reduce the overhead.
"It promises to give the industry more flexibility and it's a win for consumers who will get cleaner air at less cost," Meteyer said.
The EPA said that off-road emissions account for about 44 percent of the particulates spewed into the air and 12 percent of the NOx. The agency compared the volume of exhaust belching from an average bulldozer to the output of 26 new-model cars.
"This EPA proposal, when finalized and fully implemented, will dramatically reduce air pollution from these diesel engines and protect public health, " said John L. Kirkwood, President of the American Lung Association.
Other clean-air advocates also welcomed the EPA's proposal despite the 4-year lead-time it gives the oil industry.
"It's high time EPA moved to clean up this huge and deadly source of pollution," said Clean Air Trust Executive Director Frank O'Donnell. "We have not had a chance to examine the proposal in detail, but we have been assured by key EPA leaders that it generally incorporates targets sought by environmentalists and state air quality regulators."
(Reported by Hil Anderson, UPI Chief Energy Correspondent)