PORTLAND, Maine — Lung health advocates in Maine on Monday touted newly announced federal motor vehicle and gasoline emissions standards as potential lifesavers for thousands of people with respiratory ailments.

President Barack Obama’s administration’s so-called Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emissions and Fuel Standards will force car manufacturers to reduce certain tailpipe emissions of pollutants from average light-duty vehicles from 160 milligrams per mile to just 30 between 2017 and 2025.

In addition to that reduction in total nonmethane organic gases and nitrogen oxides produced by cars on the nation’s roadways, the new guidelines also call for oil refineries to reduce sulfur content in gasoline to just 10 parts per million by 2017, a figure down from a reported 300 parts per million about 10 years ago and about 30 parts per million currently.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is calling its tough new stance on tailpipe emissions and sulfur content a major step to drive down smog in dense urban areas and reduce public exposure to airborne toxins known to exacerbate respiratory problems.

“Cars, light trucks and SUVs are major sources of pollution in Maine,” said Effie Craven, coordinator of the Maine Healthy Air Campaign for the American Lung Association of the Northeast, in a statement. “Particularly at risk are those who suffer from asthma, lung and heart disease, as well as anyone who lives, works or goes to school near major roadways. In Maine there are more than 22,000 children and 92,000 adults with asthma and other lung diseases who may require expensive medical care on unhealthy air days.”

The EPA has claimed that by 2030, the new standards will be annually preventing between 770 and 2,200 premature deaths, another 2,200 asthma-related hospital visits, and 1.4 million missed school and work days.

The Tier 3 standards are drawing significant opposition at a national scale from oil refinery representatives, who say the extra regulations will further drive up the costs of gasoline at the pumps.

Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, told the New York Times the changes could hike gas prices by as much as nine cents per gallon.

The EPA has stated, in contrast, that it believes the new rules will raise gas prices by less than a penny per gallon, and will raise the sticker prices on cars by an average of $72 each.

However, the environmental agency argues those dispersed public costs will be more than offset by between $6.7 billion and $19 billion in economic benefits through reductions in hospital visits, medical treatments and lost worker productivity.

American car manufacturers, who are expected to absorb billions in additional costs re-engineering vehicles to meet the new tailpipe emissions standards, are not putting up a fight against the Tier 3 rules.

Maine Automobile Dealers Association head Thomas Brown said the state’s car sellers will have to take a wait-and-see approach to the regulations, and that the increased sticker prices for customers may be counterbalanced by greater efficiency and lower costs of operation after they leave the lots.

“It depends on the amount of the price change and the trade-off on any increase in mileage,” Brown told the Bangor Daily News on Monday. “It would be an analysis the customer would make. … Without knowing what the ultimate cost issues are — and we wouldn’t know that for a while — it would be pretty hard for the dealers to make a judgment.”

Reducing the sulfur content in gasoline as prescribed in the new EPA standards will be the equivalent of taking 33 million cars off the road, according to the American Lung Association.

“Traffic exhaust produces harmful air pollutants including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds that form ozone pollution and particle pollution,” Craven said. “We thank the Obama administration and Environmental Protection Agency for putting these critical public health safeguards in place so we can reduce these pollutants and everyone in Maine can breathe healthier air.”


Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.