Senate Hearing on EPA Proposed Vehicle Emission and Sulfur Standards Update (5-20-99)

Senate Hearing on EPA's proposed sulfur rule
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
May 20, 1999

Members Present
James Inhofe (R-OK)
John Chafee (R-RI)
Craig Thomas (R-WY)
Robert Bennett (R-UT)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

Opening Statements

Inhofe opened the hearing, the second in as many days on this topic, by saying the previous testimony from representatives of the automobile and  oil industry as well as other "interested parties" served only to increase his concerns about the EPA's proposed rule.  Inhofe went on to list a number of these concerns, including the EPA's definition of small refineries, the fact that there was no regional approach to the issue and western states were being subjected to the same standards as the more populated (and hence, more polluted) eastern states, and impacts on our national security related to domestic versus imported gasoline supply.

Thomas (R-WY) also offered a brief opening statement, questioning how the sulfur rule should be applied across the country and the timing of implementation.  He went on to say that clean air isn't the issue here, but the process for getting clean air is.

Panel 1
Carol Browner, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Browner began her testimony by laying the groundwork for why the EPA proposed Tier 2 standards and accompanying low sulfur requirements for gasoline are needed.  Americans are driving more than ever.  "We've gone from under 100 million light vehicles in 1970 to 200 million last year."  Included in this increase is a shift towards "larger light vehicles meeting emission standards 2 to 5 times less stringent than passenger cars."  This adds up to increasing emissions that will, according to Browner, eat away at progress we've made in air quality over the last several years.  The new requirements will phase in "both cleaner vehicle technologies and cleaner burning gasoline" in an effort to keep up with increasing emissions.

Browner went on to justify the new sulfur standards by explaining that sulfur "degrades emission control performance for all vehicles, reducing the effectiveness of the [catalytic converter]."  Her reason for having the same standards nation wide, in the eastern and western states, was simply that as a culture we like to drive and travel.  Tests have shown that introducing "dirty" gas to a catalytic converter, even once, will permanently affect its performance.  Without nationwide standards, "clean vehicles which for any number of reasons might travel to a high-sulfur region would be irreversibly damaged."  Browner emphasized that the EPA is giving auto makers and gas refineries time to phase in the new regulations, that there are rewards/credits for early compliance, and that there are "innovative and flexible" incentives built in (such as fleet averaging).

Inhofe began the question and answer period by going back and forth with Browner over the legal justification for the new standards.  The EPA's cost-benefit analysis is largely based on the "Pope study," a study currently under review on the 1997 standards for ozone and particulate matter.  President Clinton had ordered the EPA  not to base any new standards on the old until after the Pope study review was complete, and Inhofe saw this as a major issue.  Browner countered by saying that it was true the EPA used the Pope study for the cost-benefit analysis, but that it had nothing to do with the legal justification for the new rule.  The two argued over this point for some time before Thomas started his questioning.  Thomas was concerned primarily with the costs and timing of implementation as well as the level of involvement that industry had (or had not had) in the process to date.  In another heated exchange, Browner tried to explain the effort that the agency had gone through to get both the petroleum and automobile industries together and said they were still in a period of public comment and were listening to everyone's concerns.

Boxer was the next senator to question Browner, and was the only one of the present committee members to come out in support of the EPA and the new regulations.  Boxer spent her allotted time talking about the current standards in California, admitting that it does cost more, but believes the costs are worth it for cleaner air.

Several more rounds of questions followed, with all of the committee members contributing.  At one point, Inhofe entered into the record an article that was critical of scientific practices at the EPA from the internationally renowned, peer reviewed journal Readers Digest, earning a few chuckles from the crowd.  Most of the committee's concerns revolved around the affect the new rules would have on refiners, particularly smaller ones.  Inhofe later returned to his earlier contention that the EPA was illegally basing their new regulations on the Pope study, and the hearing was adjourned.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by Scott Broadwell, AGI Government Affairs Interns

Posted: June 1, 1999

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