Recently I spoke with Paul Argyropoulos, the former Senior Policy Advisor within U.S. EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality (OTAQ) and who just retired barely a month ago. Paul has been involved within EPA and during a stint in the private sector in just about every major federal fuels program over the last 30 years. This includes lead phase down, volatility, federal reformulated gasoline (RFG) and sulfur reduction in gasoline and diesel, among others. He had spent the bulk of the last 10 years on the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) program. We talked about the future of fuel programs in the U.S., including the RFS, what other countries can learn from EPA’s approach to fuels regulation, fuel economy, advanced biofuels and a number of other issues. Following are a couple of highlights from our wide ranging discussion. You can listen or download the podcast below or listen to it in ITunes.
“I think there’s a couple things. One, I think simple ultimately works best. However, simple is not easy to design and implement, because there are so many different stakeholders that are involved, and you really do have to look at how to obtain the best benefits for the least cost. The cost-benefit approach that the Agency has had over the years has worked very well; however, it has also resulted in some very complex programs.
I think the volatility control programs early on were very, very beneficial to the United States in terms of reducing volatile organic compounds and ultimately precursors for ozone. I think it was a huge step forward that was probably the first fuel quality control program that had significant impacts, other than obviously lead, which was taking not putting something in at the time. I think the RFG program, which was fascinating and very complex — great in design — took a herculean effort not just for the Agency but also for industry to ultimately come to some agreement on principles. I think that was a very beneficial program.
When you put all these things together over the course of time, the reality is you parsed together a lot of different regulatory programs, and ultimately they’ve all been beneficial, and now we are at a point where it may be best to actually look at where we are, and to rethink things, and come up with a more simple solution and simplify the regulatory requirements to reduce cost burden. I know the Agencies that are doing some of that right now. But if I have to pick, I guess the two programs, probably the most beneficial were low sulfur programs and probably the RFG program.”
“The Agency is undergoing some regulatory review, and streamlining efforts on this particular front. They’ve been working with industry partners to figure out where there’s redundancy in the regulations, see what’s important in terms of still having compliance data submitted so that they can monitor and continue to enforce the programs, but reduce not only the number of reporting requirements, but the frequency of reporting requirements. That’s a very basic approach that the Agency is looking at now. I think long term, if you would ask people that are both in industry and in government, I think they favor consolidation. The key now is understanding what we have right now on the books, where there is opportunity to turn what we have into more of a national program, as opposed to having separate low sulfur gasoline, low sulfur diesel programs, MSAT, RFG, conventional fuels.
You put it all together, and what it comes down to is there’s a little bit of difference in RVP controls in the northern and southern regions, and that’s probably the reality of where we are right now with RFG and conventional gasoline. Everything else is already low sulfur. Volatility controls are already in place because of the seasonal requirements. They may not be as stringent as you would get with the RFG program; however, RFG and conventional fuels look a lot alike now, so there might be opportunity to be able to come up with a consolidated approach, reassess the benefits and the costs associated with the controls that are currently out there, given you have a lot of new vehicle controls that are already doing a lot of extra work as well. So I think really, a whole assessment of where we are with vehicles, and fuels, and what the needs are, and how that looks going forward to put into place a national program is where we need to go. There may be still seasonal things that need to be addressed, but for the most part fuel looks a lot alike out there no matter where you are.”