Sign up today and save up to 83% on a Hartford Courant digital subscription
CT Now

The high cost of tailpipe emissions

It isn't hard to recognize an example of false economy in the average household budget. The vegetable gardener who spends $500 on supplies to produce $12 in produce, the inexpensive home repair that falls apart in a month or the avid shopper who saves $5 online but pays an extra $20 in shipping and handling.

Yet for some reason many of us are blind to the false economy of providing gasoline at the cheapest price possible regardless of its impact on our lives and society. To put it bluntly, humans have been subsidizing the cost of gas by accepting — without direct charge — the air pollution gas-burning vehicles generate.

That's why the draft rules governing the sulfur content of gasoline recently announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ought to be welcome news regardless of what modest uptick on prices at the pump they may generate. The EPA estimates they will result in 2,400 fewer premature deaths, 23,000 fewer respiratory ailments in children and total annual health care savings anywhere from $8 billion to as much as $23 billion.

The requirements are overdue. The Tier-3 standards as they are known will conform to existing California vehicle emission standards (as well as those widely used in Europe and Asia), which should bring conformity that actually makes it easier on the automobile industry to compete. Reducing the standard of sulfur concentration in gasoline from 30 parts per million to 10 ppm by 2017 is expected to clean the air by as much as taking 33 million cars off the road, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The changes will, however, place additional costs on oil refiners, but exactly how much is a matter of considerable disagreement. The EPA estimates the cost at about a penny a gallon while the oil industry has suggested the number could be closer to 9 cents.

Neither is insignificant — until one considers that air pollution is a real cost, too. The new standard will at least mean that the costs of sulfur in gasoline will no longer be hidden and people will have less of an economic incentive to pollute.

As one might expect, the initial reaction to the regulations fell along partisan lines with Republicans like Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, fretting that they will disproportionately hurt the working class. Others even suggested that they will pose a problem for the confirmation of Gina McCarthy, President Barack Obama's nominee to head the EPA.

Please. No doubt there are GOP senators anxious to attack the EPA nominee regardless of who she is or where she stands on most any issue because it fits that party's narrative that EPA regulations are bad for business. The tears shed for the poor also seem to be of the crocodile variety as the working class are the least likely to have health insurance to treat asthma and the other ailments that develop as a direct consequence of high-sulfur gasoline.

While the rules won't find many allies in the oil industry or in the GOP, they are strongly supported by consumer groups, car manufacturers, scientists, labor groups and environmentalists. They are also expected to create jobs — more than 24,000 new jobs supporting the people who make, install and maintain the equipment required by the refineries.

Should consumers relish the prospect of paying slightly more for a gallon of gas? The reality, of course, is that they'll hardly notice it. Price volatility is such the a penny or even two or three is the kind of swing consumers already experience in a day or week. And some predict that what little cost is created won't be passed along to consumers anyway.

Meanwhile, there's a good chance that Americans will be buying less at the pump in the near future. The EPA rules on sulfur in gasoline dovetail nicely with the Obama administration's push for higher fuel efficiency standards and lowered greenhouse gas emissions. Not only will gasoline soon be cleaner but most Americans will be burning less of it, too.

Consumers aren't dummies. Just as keeping down state and federal gas taxes creates a false economy when it causes highways to fall into disrepair, ignoring the health effects of tailpipe emissions has a real cost, too. That you don't see the charge on your monthly credit card bill doesn't make it any less real.

Copyright © 2015, CT Now
Related Content
  • Climate change and national security

    Climate change and national security

    Your editorial "The danger of climate denial" (May 22) offered a dismal forecast, yet some people continue to deny that climate change is real or that it is caused at least in part by human activity.

  • Obama's words and actions at odds

    Obama's words and actions at odds

    Your editorial on President Barack Obama's speech at the Coast Guard Academy graduation ceremony rightly commended him for his straightforward discussion of climate change ("The danger of climate denial," May 22).

  • GDP must consider environmental costs

    GDP must consider environmental costs

    The Sun's recent editorial about the GOP's intention to gut the EPA's authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions touches on an important economic issue ("Holding one's breath, GOP-style," Dec. 9).

  • Is Obama overly ambitious on ozone regulations?

    Is Obama overly ambitious on ozone regulations?

    President Barack Obama has a narrowing window to secure a legacy in which he can take pride and which historians will applaud and note with favor. Freed from having to run for office ever again, President Obama can focus on his legacy, work to ensure that a Democrat succeeds him in the White House...

  • Smog limits are badly needed

    Smog limits are badly needed

    Maryland has the worst air on the East Coast and highest premature death rate in the nation. National Academy of Sciences data suggest that health impacts resulting from fossil fuels cost $73 per household per month in Maryland and are a drag on the economy. Yet conservative deniers and their self-serving,...

  • A healthier way to fly

    A healthier way to fly

    Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took the first step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes. The rule-making process will take months if not years, but the lingering question is, how will the proposed regulations fit with what other countries are doing about...

  • City smog threatens our health and the economy

    City smog threatens our health and the economy

    The EPA's recent decision to tighten limits on smog pollution is commendable and necessary ("Holding one's breath, GOP style," Dec. 8).

  • Forget hurricanes, the real threat to Md. is the rising sea level

    Forget hurricanes, the real threat to Md. is the rising sea level

    Your editorial "Don't take hurricanes lightly" (June 7) noted the threat hurricanes pose to Maryland, but the oceans hold much deadlier and persistent danger: Sea level rise.

Comments
Loading
58°