Energy & Environment

EPA Rules Aim to Phase Out Sulfur in Gas: What Does it Mean For Your Wallet?

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Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new guidelines for what gasoline can contain. The motive behind the new regulations was to create gasoline that minimizes the effects on the environment, improve public health, and mitigates the effects of climate change. One big change was that the EPA announced its desire to minimize the amount of sulfur in gasoline. Read on to learn about the effects of sulfur in gasoline, the debate, and the end results.

Why do we care about sulfur in our gasoline?

Sulfur is a smog-forming pollutant that has been linked to respiratory diseases and air pollution. The new regulations would require refiners to reduce the amount of sulfur in gasoline by 60 percent by 2017, from 30 parts per million to 10 parts per million. President Obama asked the EPA for cleaner gasoline standards in 2010, and since then the EPA has worked with scientists and automakers to develop these new regulations. However, the regulations would require oil refiners to install expensive new equipment in their refineries and would force auto manufacturers to install new pollution-control in car engines. While some argue that these new regulations will improve health at a minimal cost, oil refiners argue that the costs are unnecessarily expensive to their industry, thus hurting consumers, taking away jobs, and negatively impacting the economy as a whole.

What are the arguments for these new guidelines?

Advocates argue that the additional costs of the EPA regulations would pay for themselves by the year 2030 through decreased costs in health care. The EPA estimates that the reduction in sulfur emissions would save Americans between $5.7 and $19 billion by the year 2030 and would reduce the amount of sick days taken at school and work. The EPA also estimated that Americans could see the prevention of 770-2,000 premature deaths, 2,200 hospital admissions, 1,900 asthma attacks, and 30,000 reported cases of respiratory problems in children living near highways or urban centers. All of these health benefits, the EPA claims, would come at an increase of just 2/3 of a cent per gallon and the addition of just $75 to the sticker price of a new car.

Representative John Dingell (D-MI) explained the benefit behind the new law, stating,

We do have a serious problem with too much sulfur in gasoline. It screws up the mufflers, it screws up the catalytic converters, and it screws up a lot of other things, too.

Other advocates point to the emission standards of the European Union, Japan, and South Korea, which are far ahead of those in the United States, to argue that these regulations would bring the US up to speed with other developed countries. Lastly, some in the auto industry have argued that these sulfur emission standards would be beneficial to auto makers in enabling them to meet newer, stricter federal environmental regulations, which would more than make up for the additional cost of rigging their cars to emit less sulfur.

What are the arguments against the new guidelines?

Opponents argue that the EPA regulations would have minimal environmental impact while putting greater strain on the economy and ultimately hurting consumers. Since 2000, oil refiners have already been required to reduce the sulfur levels in gasoline by 90 percent; the new regulations would mandate the removal of the last 10 percent, which according to experts is much more difficult and costly to remove than the initial 90 percent. This process would cost the oil industry roughly $10 billion and would increase the cost of gas by nine cents per gallon. This increased cost would force the oil companies to cut employment and raise prices, which in the end hurts the average consumer. Additionally, opponents argue that these increased costs are unnecessary because they will have little impact on climate change and global warming. While sulfur emissions contribute to smog and some air pollution, there has been no link found between sulfur emissions and the factors that contribute to climate change, leading opponents to argue that the environmental impact of these regulations is just not worth the economic stress forced upon consumers and job seekers.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) disagreed with the new guidelines, complaining especially about the little time that producers will have to comply with the guidelines. The API’s Bob Greco claimed that the rules don’t allow enough flexibility for producers to switch over in both a timely and safe manner. Patrick Kelly, an API Senior Policy advisor, also said:

API opposes this discretionary rulemaking as we have serious doubts as to the Agency’s justification for it. We have been insisting that EPA demonstrate a scientific justification for two and a half years. API commissioned research on the costs and benefits associated with further reductions in gasoline sulfur. We found some clear conclusions: The proposed standard will yield little immediate or longer term air quality benefits. And, reducing average sulfur from 30 parts per million to 10 parts per million will impose enormous costs. Further reducing gasoline sulfur is not necessary for meeting more stringent vehicle emissions standards, and automakers are unlikely to introduce vehicle emission technology that is enabled by the lower sulfur fuel.


The implementation by the EPA of new guidelines regarding sulfur in gasoline made news this spring. As the guidelines continue to be phased into place, there is still disagreement about the viability and fairness of the rules, and whether or not they will have a concrete effect on our environment, health, and economy remains to be seen.


Climate Progress: A Comprehensive Guide to the EPA’s New Pollution-Reducing Gasoline Rules

Huffington Post: Sulfur, Sulfur, Toil and Trouble

TIME: EPA’s New Emission Rules Could Increase Gas Prices, Save Lives

Earth Day Network: EPA Finalizes Tier 3 Gasoline Standards

Environmental Protection: API Opposes EPA’s Tier 3 Rule

Bloomberg: Refiners Rebuff EPA Concessions In Rule to Cut Sulfur

Machinery Lubrication: New EPA Gasoline Regulations Costly, Counterproductive

Bloomberg: EPA Said Poised to Issue Lower Sulfur Limits On Fuel

The New York Times: EPA Set to Reveal Tough New Sulfur Emissions Rule

Utah Political Capitol: Tier 3 Gasoline: Air-Pollution Slayer or Tail Pipe Dream?

Convenience Store and Fuel News: EPA Finalizes Tier 3 Emission & Fuel Standards

Union of Concerned Scientists: The EPA’s Tier 3 Standards


Joseph Palmisano
Joseph Palmisano is a graduate of The College of New Jersey with a degree in History and Education. He has a background in historical preservation, public education, freelance writing, and business. While currently employed as an insurance underwriter, he maintains an interest in environmental and educational reform. Contact Joseph at



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