Could EPA sulfur cuts affect gas prices?

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose a new rule today that will require refiners to cut the amount of sulfur in gasoline by two thirds.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to propose a new rule today that will require refiners to cut the amount of sulfur in gas by two-thirds. The move is being touted as one of the Obama administration's most significant air pollution initiatives.

The sulfur in gas doesn’t pose a health threat, but what it does do is affect a car’s catalytic converter. That’s the device that controls emissions.

The function of the catalytic converter is basically to serve as a filter,” says Kent Moors is at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Ducane University in Pittsburgh. “Sulfur has a tendency to reduce the ability of the catalytic converter to do that.”

Simply put, the more sulfur there is in gas, the more pollution your car spews. The EPA says the new rule could cut air pollutants by up to 80 percent. That’s equivalent to taking 33 million cars off the road.

Environmentalists and state regulators support the rule, and so do carmakers. So who’s opposed to it? The oil industry.

The essential posture of the industry is to argue that increasing the sulfur standards will result in a higher cost to the end user,” Moors says.

Oil companies say the price of gas could rise by up to nine cents a gallon because of the rule. The EPA counters that it would only increase by one cent a gallon.

About the author

Queena Kim covers technology for Marketplace. She lives in the Bay Area.

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