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Great Lakes Article:

Pollution rules to have big impact on Northland industries
By Scott Thistle
Duluth News Tribune
Published May 13, 2004


ST. PAUL - Standing in front of a small fleet of diesel tractors Wednesday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt touted new federal rules on diesel-engine emissions.

The regulations, which will require cleaner-burning engines for off-road diesel equipment manufactured after 2010, will go far toward improving Minnesota's and the nation's air, Pawlenty said.

On-road diesels, including highway trucks and passenger vehicles, built after 2007 must have the new cleaner-burning engines. Marine vehicles and locomotives are subject to the rules starting in 2012.

For the largest diesel engines -- those with more than 750 horsepower -- the rules won't go into effect until after 2014, the EPA says.

The rules also require those who refine diesel fuels to significantly reduce the amount of sulfur, a key air pollutant, in diesel by 2010.

"We are going to make that telltale black puff of smoke that comes from diesel engines a thing of the past," Leavitt said.

The rules will certainly have an impact in Minnesota, where the state's farming, mining, shipping and logging industries employ many diesel engines.

But how fast engines will be replaced is unclear. The rules apply to only new vehicles and hold no requirements that existing diesel engines be retrofitted.

Among other things, diesel engines are known for their longevity, and some of the diesel engines operating in Minnesota, including those that drive Great Lakes ships, are expected to be functional for decades to come.

"The lakers that are built and operated on the Great Lakes typically live or are efficiently operated for between 50 and 70 years," said Jim Sharrow, the facilities manager at the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

Most of the ships in service were built in the 1970s and won't be replaced for many years, he said.

Sharrow, a naval architect and former director of engineering and maintenance with the Great Lakes Fleet, said the rules' immediate impact is the reduction in sulfur, which essentially serves as a lubricant. That change may require some retrofitting, but it isn't expected to have a dramatic financial impact on the shipping industry. Some of that retrofitting could be completed during regularly planned engine maintenance, Sharrow said.

On the plus side, cleaner-burning engines will probably be more efficient engines, which could mean the costs of new engine technology will be offset by better fuel efficiency.

For Minnesota's mining industry, the changes would most likely translate to higher operating costs, said Tom Farrell of P&H Mine Pro Services in Hibbing.

His company leases industrial machines, including the large diesel-powered dump trucks used by the iron-mining industry. The 2,500-horsepower engines that go into those trucks won't be subject to the rules until after 2014, but the rules lowering sulfur content will probably have a financial impact. Mine trucks consume 25 to 30 gallons of diesel an hour and are operated between 7,500 and 8,000 hours a year, Farrell said.

"The new costs of refining that fuel are likely going to be passed on to the end user," Farrell said.

The EPA estimates that producing the lower-sulfur fuel will increase the cost of diesel by about 7 cents a gallon. But more efficient engines are expected to offset that by about 3 cents a gallon, creating a net per-gallon increase of 4 cents.

For refineries, including Murphy Oil in Superior, which provides much of the diesel for Northeastern Minnesota's mining, timber and shipping industries, the rules have been anticipated for several months, said David Podratz, Murphy's refinery manager.

Podratz said it would be difficult to estimate how much the changes would cost Murphy but ongoing improvements, aimed at lowering the sulfur content in the gasoline that his refinery produces, cost $26 million.

"It will be even more to meet the diesel rules," he said.

Some refineries will also need to decide whether they'll stay in the diesel business, he said.

"It's the big question mark," Podratz said, and it's a decision Murphy hasn't made yet.

"It's going to cost the refinery industry a lot of money," Podratz said.

Some costs will be borne by the industry and some will be passed on to consumers.

"But exactly how it splits -- who knows?" Podratz said.

Still, the health care costs saved by cleaning up the air far outweigh the costs of implementing the changes, said Leavitt, the EPA administrator. "The ratio on health benefits in terms of dollars saved to dollars spent is about 40-to-1," he said.

Air-quality warnings in Northeastern Minnesota have been issued four times in the past 14 months. They are issued when air-pollution levels become unhealthy for sensitive segments of the population, including those with respiratory problems and young children, said Bob Beresford, an air-quality specialist with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in Duluth.

Diesel-engine emissions contribute to those advisories but are not the only source of air pollution, Beresford said.

The air advisories aren't directly attributed to local air-pollution sources but are a result of regional atmospheric conditions, which bring pollution from elsewhere in the Midwest, Beresford said.

"These are really region-wide events and tend to cover the whole state when we've had to issue these advisories," Beresford said.

Local air-pollution sources, including diesel emissions, add to the problem -- especially in areas like the Twin Cities, which have a large number of air-polluting industries, Beresford said. The move to cleaner-burning engines and lower sulfur will certainly be an improvement, but those improvements won't happen overnight, Beresford said.

Leavitt agrees. "This is a generational relay," he said Wednesday. "President Bush has made clear that we not only do our part but accelerate the pace of that progress."

Over time, the changes will improve the quality of people's lives, Leavitt said. "From this day forward it will only begin to get cleaner," he said.

The agency will also spend $65 million to retrofit an estimated 450,000 diesel school buses, including Minnesota buses, PCA Commissioner Pamela Corrigan said.

Minnesota environmental advocacy groups welcome the rules and see them as a positive step, but they also took the opportunity to highlight other concerns involving the president's environmental policy.

The rules need to be considered in the context of the administration's entire record on air pollution, said Nat Mund, a Sierra Club clean-air expert.

"The principles and process applied to this diesel rule have been noticeably absent from just about every other major decision by the Bush administration on air quality," Mund said. "The technology for old coal-fired power plants and refineries is also out-of-date, and yet the administration has bent over backwards to give energy companies a free pass."

Katherine Blauvelt of the National Environmental Trust said the announcement, a few days before Minnesota's fishing opener, begged criticism of the administration's position on mercury pollution. "The Minnesota Department of Health has issued a statewide fish consumption mercury advisory for 100 percent of the lakes and over 4,000 miles of river," Blauvelt said. "Just as diesel engine emissions are important, so are power plant emissions. When it comes to mercury emissions, Administrator Leavitt and the Bush administration are taking a big step backward by failing to adopt strong mercury controls on old, dirty coal- burning power plants -- the No. 1 source of dangerous mercury emissions into our air and water."

 

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