1,920 and counting! That’s how many regulations President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency has promulgated since his 2009 inauguration. Many, if not most, will bring few health or environmental benefits – but will impose high economic and unemployment costs, often to advance the Administration’s unabashedly anti-hydrocarbon agenda.

The Heritage Foundation calculates that this EPA’s 20 “major” rulemaking decisions to date (costing $100 million or more annually) alone could cost the United States over $36 billion per year.

The latest in this regulatory tsunami involves a third layer of rules that the agency claims will further improve air quality, by forcing refineries to remove yet more sulfur from gasoline. The so-called Tier 3 rules need to be examined in the context of US air pollution history.

Since 1970, America’s cars have eliminated some 99% of pollutants that once came out of tailpipes. “Today’s cars are essentially zero-emission vehicles, compared to 1970 models,” says air pollution expert Joel Schwartz, co-author of Air Quality in America.

Recent models start out cleaner and stay cleaner throughout their lives, Schwartz adds. “As a result, fleet turnover has been reducing on-road emissions by an average of about 8%  to 10% per year.” Over time, that has brought tremendously improved air quality, and continues to do so.

In addition, since 2004, under Tier 1 and 2 rules, refiners have reduced sulfur in gasoline from an average of 300 parts per million to 30 ppm – a 90% drop. By 2022, existing emission reduction requirements will slash volatile organic pollutants by a further 62%, carbon monoxide by another 51% and nitrous oxides 80% more – on top of reductions achieved between 1970 and 2004.

But even this doesn’t satisfy federal regulators. Now EPA wants sulfur levels slashed to 10 ppm – even though the agency’s own computer models demonstrate that Tier 3 rules would bring essentially zero air quality or health benefits, when earlier and ongoing reductions are factored in.

In fact, Tier 3 improvements would reduce monthly ozone levels by barely 0.5 part per billion (average levels) to 1.2 ppb (peak levels), ENVIRON International estimates, using EPA models. That’s equivalent to 5 to 12 cents out of $100 million!  These reductions could not even have been measured by equipment existing a couple decades ago. Their contribution to improved human health would be essentially zero.

EPA tier 3However, the new Tier 3 standards would cost $10 billion in upfront capital expenditures and an additional $2.4 billion in annual compliance expenses, the American Petroleum Institute and other industry experts say. They will raise the price of gasoline by 6-9 cents a gallon, on top of new state fuel tax hikes and gasoline prices that have rocketed from $1.79 to $3.68 per gallon of regular unleaded under President Obama.

These costs ripple throughout the economy, affecting job creation and retention, commuting and shipping, and the price of goods and services, travel and vacations. They kill jobs and harm minority and other poor families most of all.

Moreover, these Tier 3 rules are on top of carbon dioxide, mercury, particulate, water quality and numerous other rules that are being imposed to address risks and achieve benefits that exist only in EPA and environmental activist computer models, press releases and fear campaigns. They are an integral part of the administration’s war on coal and other fossil fuels.

Another basic problem is that EPA always assumes there is no safe threshold level for pollutants – and pollution must constantly be ratcheted downward, eventually to zero. This flies in the face of what any competent epidemiologist knows: the dose makes the poison.

There is a point below which a chemical is not harmful. There are even chemicals which at low or trace quantities are essential to proper operation of our muscular, brain and other bodily functions – but at higher doses can be poisonous. There are also low-level chemical, radiation and pathogen exposures that actually safeguard our bodies from cancer, illness and other damage, in a process known as hormesis.

EPA believes the additional pollution reductions demanded by its Tier 3 sulfur and thousands of other regulations are technologically possible. Its attitude seems to be: If it can be done, the agency will require it, no matter how high the costs, or how minimal the benefits.

Coal, oil and natural gas provide 84% of the energy that powers America and makes our health and living standards possible. Wind, solar and biofuel sources provide less than 4% – and have serious health and environmental problems of their own. Citizens and lawmakers need to tell EPA and President Obama:

“The enormous air and water quality improvements to date are adequate for now, absent clear and convincing evidence that further pollution reductions are needed to safeguard human health. We have other crucial health, environmental, employment and economic problems to solve – which also affect human health and welfare.

“Your actions are forcing us to expend vast financial, human and technological resources to achieve minimal, or even zero, quantifiable health benefits. We need science-based standards and commonsense regulations. Scrapping your unnecessary Tier 3 rules is a good place to start.”

A version of this article appeared in The Washington Times (May 1, 2013).


  • Paul Driessen

    Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for CFACT and author of Cracking Big Green and Eco-Imperialism: Green Power - Black Death.