WASHINGTON -- Automakers and their allies are pleading with the Bush administration to stick by ultralow-sulfur diesel fuel rules scheduled to take effect next year.
The car companies are pitted against another lobbying heavyweight, the oil industry.
Automakers fear that petroleum companies and refiners aim to delay or relax the rules. The key provision, effective in September 2006, requires that 80 percent of highway diesel fuel contain no more than 15 parts per million of sulfur. The limit now is 500 parts per million.
Ultralow-sulfur fuel is essential for expanded use of modern, cleaner-running and more fuel-efficient diesel engines in cars and light trucks, a major goal of automakers over the next few years.
"Any relaxation of the sulfur standard would preclude the introduction of these new, highly fuel-efficient advanced lean-burn vehicles," said Fred Webber in a March 16 letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.
Webber is president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents the Big 3 and six import-brand automakers.
The car companies have been joined in the appeal by manufacturers of heavy-duty engines, as well as health and environmental groups.
Health and environmental groups are concerned that relaxation of the fuel requirement also "could undermine efforts to clean up diesel trucks, buses and off-road equipment," says Frank O'Donnell, president of the environmental group Clean Air Watch.
This is not the first time automakers and environmental groups have teamed up on the sulfur issue.
The ultralow-sulfur rules were adopted late in the Clinton administration but were put on hold in early 2001 for review by the incoming Bush administration. Many observers expected President Bush's longtime ties to the oil industry to influence the outcome.
But ultimately Bush and his advisers let the diesel rules stand. The rules also withstood a federal court challenge by refiners.