WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration proposed reductions greater than 90 percent in air pollution from diesel-powered farm, construction and other off-road equipment Tuesday, predicting the curbs would prevent thousands of premature deaths, heart attacks and respiratory ailments.
The changes would start with 2008 models, and all bulldozers, farm combines and other diesel-powered equipment not used on roads must have modern emission controls by 2014. Cleaner burning diesel fuel would have to contain 99 percent less sulfur by 2010.
Diesel vehicles are responsible for large amounts of the microscopic soot that causes respiratory problems and smog-causing chemicals from motor vehicles, with construction, farm, mining, locomotive and marine engines the main sources of off-road diesel pollution.
The new engine pollution requirements are part of a broader push by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce tailpipe emissions from diesel-powered vehicles. The latest proposal builds on a 2001 rule ordering pollution cuts from heavy-duty diesel engines and diesel fuel used in highway trucks and buses.
EPA also has imposed tougher emissions requirements for diesel locomotive engines.
The agency estimates that, by 2030, its latest proposal will prevent 9,600 premature deaths, 16,000 heart attacks and 260,000 respiratory problems in children. EPA worked with the White House's Office of Management and Budget on the proposal, which is scheduled to be made final next year after a public comment period.
"These actions will be the most far-reaching diesel programs in the world today," EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said. "While we want to gain all these benefits, what we don't want to do is put people out of business."
Health and environmental groups welcomed the move, saying it would dramatically improve public health. Particularly susceptible to the effects of diesel exhaust are children, the elderly, and people with asthma, cardiopulmonary, lung and chronic heart diseases, according to a report Tuesday by the American Lung Association and Environmental Defense.
"We think the administration has really hit a home run on this one," said Fred Krupp, Environmental Defense's executive director.
Richard Kassel, a senior attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council, said he expected the proposal to be "the biggest public health step since lead was removed from gasoline more than two decades ago."
Diesel engine and equipment makers, diesel fuel providers and emissions treatment manufacturers also supported EPA's proposal, which they helped craft.
EPA estimated the cost of meeting the proposal could add 1 to 2 percent -- a few thousand dollars -- to the price of a typical bulldozer costing about $230,000, and a few cents per gallon of diesel fuel.
"These are definitely some aggressive standards," said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, a Frederick, Md.-based industry trade group. "Industry absolutely supports the objectives here for clean diesel technology, and has been working with EPA on this throughout the course of the year."
On the Net:
American Lung Association: http://www.lungusa.org
Diesel Technology Forum: http://www.dieselforum.org