By: Shannon Lawson, Staff Member
On January 29th, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget its proposed rule for Tier 3 gasoline and motor vehicle standards. If approved, the Tier 3 rule would go into effect in 2017 and require stricter motor vehicle and gasoline standards in hopes of reducing tailpipe emissions and their impact on air quality and health. In turn, motor fuel producers and motor vehicle manufacturers would have to lower their products' sulfur and vapor pressure levels.
Under the existing Tier 2 standard, which was finalized in February 2000, the EPA limited the sulfur content of gasoline to 30 parts per million (ppm) beginning with model year 2004. The proposed Tier 3 rule is expected to set the sulfur limit to 10 ppm. A decrease in the sulfur content of gasoline reduces the emission of sulfur dioxide or sulfate particulate matter into the air. It also increases the effectiveness of emissions control technologies which help reduce the level of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon, and nitrogen oxide released into the air.
Undoubtedly, Tier 3 gasoline will come at a cost. It is estimated Tier 3 gasoline will cost U.S. refiners as much as $10-17 billion in up-front capital costs and another $5-13 billion in annual operating expenses. Even though many U.S. refiners have already invested in desulfurization technology, some refineries will not be able to meet these financial commitments and may be forced to close. Moreover, the cost of complying with T3 gasoline may outweigh the benefits. It has been argued that existing Tier 2 standards have already achieved the EPA's goal for vehicle emissions and Tier 3 gasoline does not add any significant benefits to the environment.
In addition, Tier 3 gasoline will also cost consumers more at the pump. Although the EPA estimates that Tier 3 standards will only raise gas prices one cent per gallon, the American Petroleum Institute estimates gas prices will raise prices six to nine cents per gallon. Regardless of which is correct, the price of gas would increase. Economists have also predicted Tier 3 gasoline will lead to price increases for other consumer goods as well such as utilities and groceries.
So is it worth it? Should U.S. drivers potentially have to pay an additional nine cents per gallon on already insanely high gas prices? As of February 2013, the U.S. national average for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.497. Who knows how high gas prices will be four years from now in 2017 when the proposed Tier 3 standards are expected to go into effect.
While Tier 3 gasoline may only cost the average U.S. driver an additional $51.30 a year, we must also take into account the effect it would have on the price of other consumer goods. Besides, the existing Tier 2 standards have yielded significant improvements according to the EPA's own goals and would continue to do so even without tightening the standards. If Tier 3 gasoline does not drastically change the impact of vehicle emissions on the environment, then perhaps it is not worth it.
 Jessica Coomes & Andrew Childers, White House Begins Review of EPA Proposed Tier 3 Gasoline, Motor Vehicle Standards, Daily Env't Report (BNA), Jan. 31, 2013, at A-6.
 Id. See also Cleaner Gasoline and Vehicles Survey January 2013, American Lung Association, http://www.lung.org/healthy-air/outdoor/resources/cleaner-gasoline-and-vehicles-survey-jan-2013.html (last visited Feb. 2, 2013).
 See Nick Snow, Watching Government: Tier 3 Battle Shapes Up, 110 Oil & Gas J. 1, Jan. 2, 2012, available at http://www.ogj/com/articles/print/vol-110/issue-1/general-interest-watching-government-tier-3-battle.html.
 See Daily Env’t Report. See also Emissions Standards Reference Guide, EPA, http://www. epa.gov/rfa/tier3.html (last visited Feb. 2, 2013).
 Id. See also Arthur Marin, NESCAUM, Benefits & Costs of Tier 3 Low Sulfur Gasoline Program, Presentation at the CT Deep SIPRAC Meeting (Jan. 12, 2012), http://www.ct.gov/dep/lib/dep/air/siprac/2012/tier_3_low_sulfur_gasoline_ct_siprac_11212.pdf (last visited Feb. 2, 2013).
 See K.O. Blumberg et al., Low-Sulfur Gasoline & Diesel: The Key to Lower Vehicle Emissions, Presentation at the Int'l Council on Clean Transp. (2003) http://www.unep.org/transport/pcfv/pdf/publowsulfurpaper.pdf.
 Watching Government, supra note 3, at 1.
 Benefits & Costs of Tier 3 Low Sulfur Gasoline Program, supra note 5, at 18.
 Watching Government, supra note 3, at 1.
 See Robert Murphy, Tier 3 Regulations, Inst. Energy Research, (June 14, 2012) http://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/2012/06/14/tier-3-regulations/ (last visited Feb. 2, 2013).
 See Daily Env’t Report, supra note 1.
 Memo from Andrew Baumann & Chloe Mullins, Greenburg Quinlan Rosner, to American Lung Association, Voters Support Stricter Gasoline & Vehicle Standards at 5, http://www.lung.org/healthy-air/outdoor/resources/cleaner-gasoline-and-vehicles-survey-jan-2013.html.
 AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report, AAA, http://www.fuelgaugereport.aaa.com/ (last updated Feb. 2, 2013, 3:04 AM).
 On average, U.S. drivers drive approximately 12,000 miles a year. The average gasoline vehicle on the road toady has a fuel economy of about 21 mpg. Therefore, the average U.S. vehicle consumes approximately 570 gallons a year (12,000 gal. / 21 mpg = 570 gallons a year). Taking the 570 gallons consumed each year multiplied by the $.09 in additional per gallon cost of Tier 3 gasoline equals $51.30. See Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle, EPA, 2 (Dec. 2011), http://www.epa/gov/otaq/climate/documents/420f11041.pdf.
 Robert Murphy, Tier 3 Regulations, supra note 11.