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Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel - Press Release

DEC announces it will follow "national plan" for transition to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel for heavy-duty trucks and buses in urban Alaska.

April 1, 2002

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Michele Brown today announced that Alaska will follow the national plan proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the transition to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel for heavy-duty trucks and buses in urban Alaska. DEC will request an extension to June 13, 2003, to submit recommendations to EPA on how best to transition to the fuel in rural Alaska in order to hear from more people in rural Alaskan communities. Alaska has not and will not ask for an exemption from the 15 parts per million (ppm) sulfur standard for road use diesel fuel.

In December 2000, EPA finalized a rule reducing sulfur emissions of diesel to no more than 15 ppm for heavy-duty trucks and buses. DEC’s decision for urban Alaska means that between 2006 and 2010, at least 80% of the diesel Alaska refineries or importers produce or import for road use must be ultra-low sulfur (15 ppm) and the remaining 20% must be 500 ppm or less. By 2010, 100% of the diesel for road use must be ultra-low sulfur fuel.

Alaska had the option of developing its own plan to meet the 15 ppm standard, including extending the date, but chose the national plan for communities on the Alaska road system connected to the contiguous states and the larger communities on the marine highway system in order to improve air quality.

Use of lower sulfur diesel fuel will have important health benefits by significantly reducing emissions of fine particulate matter and other pollutants. The emission controls in new vehicles will reduce particulate matter and nitrogen oxide gas emissions by up to 90% .

New medical research shows convincing links between health and pollution exposure from diesel vehicles. Diesel engines are a significant source of nitrogen oxides (NOx). Exposure from diesel exhaust can cause human respiratory problems, haze, and nitrate deposits that upset the fragile nutrient balance in lakes and rivers. Particulate matter, particularly from fuel combustion, is linked with many significant health problems, from aggravation of asthma to premature death. Recent studies also indicate diesel particulate as a potential cancer risk.

"Although we have fewer large trucks and buses in urban Alaska than in other areas in the U.S., these trucks still rumble down our roads, and children still ride on school buses," said Commissioner Brown. "Using ultra-low sulfur diesel will reduce air pollution from large diesel trucks and buses, and consequently reduce the risk of cancer, asthma, and respiratory illnesses."

The federal rule requires new emission control equipment in model year 2007 heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 8500 pounds. Ultra-low sulfur diesel is necessary for the operation of the new emission controls. Engine manufacturers have decided to configure all diesel vehicles, regardless of size, to run on ultra-low sulfur diesel. Using fuel with a higher sulfur content could cause engine damage, loss of warranty, and federal penalties. Following the national plan in urban Alaska will ensure the fuel these vehicles need is available. Older diesel vehicles should not be adversely effected by using the new fuel, although vehicles made before 1990 may need fuel additives to run efficiently.

Rural communities, tribal leaders, and others in rural Alaska have asked for more time to develop an implementation strategy that addresses emissions for non-road sources and protects rural communities from higher home heating costs. Many Alaskan villages are dependent on diesel for power generation and home heating, which are not addressed in the national rule. The additional time will allow rural communities and Tribes to evaluate village infrastructure to accommodate the new fuel, subsidies and incentives, power generation facility upgrades, and health risks from exposure to diesel power generation. DEC is committed to providing maximum flexibility for Tribes and rural communities to comply with the new fuel rule or to work toward converting to 15 ppm earlier than the rest of the nation, if they choose.