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