EPA balks at updating aftermarket catalytic converter standard

EPA balks at updating aftermarket catalytic converter standard

The decision of a House Appropriations Subcommittee in late July to prevent the EPA from moving forward with its Tier III tailpipe emission standards moves the agency's proposed rule on that subject to the Capital's front burner.


In one sense, whether the proposal becomes final is a non-issue for the aftermarket since its sulfur-in-gasoline limit will not affect sales of aftermarket gasoline additives, at least as the proposal is currently written. When used at the maximum recommended treatment rate, aftermarket gasoline additives contribute less than the proposed limit of 3 parts per million sulfur to the finished gasoline.

But the proposal does raise some other aftermarket concerns. It does not modernize the EPA's dusty aftermarket catalytic converter standard, which differs from California's.

The whole point of the Tier III proposal is to bring EPA standards for reducing carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbon air pollution across the country to levels promoted by the California Air Resource Board (CARB) LEV III program, which goes into effect in 2015.

However, the Tier III proposal omits any mention of the EPA's aftermarket catalytic converter policy. It was adopted in 1986, and has never been altered. It is inferior to the requirements adopted by CARB in 2009 which requires catalytic converters to meet a 50,000 mile/5 year warranty and relies on a mass based standard (i.e. grams of pollution/mile). The EPA requirement is 25,000 miles/ 5 years. Instead of a "mass-based" standard, the EPA uses a 70 percent hydrocarbon, 70 percent carbon monoxide, and 30 percent NOx emission reduction-based standard.

What this means, if the House subcommittee cancellation of Tier III does not stand, is that there will not be one, aligned federal aftermarket catalytic converter policy. California and states that follow the CARB standard will have a stricter standard than the states that adhere to the EPA standard.

This doesn't sit well with some major national clean air organizations. One of the major proponents of an updated aftermarket catalytic converter policy is the Ozone Transport Commission (OTC), a group of Eastern states with among the biggest air pollution problems. In comments to the EPA, the OTC said, "Without updating its policy, EPA would be allowing use of replacement converters that will not guarantee emission reductions as long as the original converters. To ensure emission reductions occur when catalysts fall outside of the warranty period, the final Tier 3 regulation should include a more stringent aftermarket catalytic converter policy as recommended previously by OTC."

The OTC has adopted numerous resolutions over the past few years pleading with the EPA to bring its aftermarket catalytic converter policy into line with California's. It did so again at its 2013 annual meeting. However, the OTC recommendation differs in one aspect from CARB's: CARB would not allow used original engine manufacturer (OEM) converters to be certified and sold. The reuse of reconditioned converters is OK by the OTC.

Mary Nichols, the chairman of the CARB, calls the EPA Tier III proposal a "noteworthy strengthening" of Tier II standards. However, California did not ask the EPA to update its 1986 aftermarket catalytic converter policy when it submitted comments on the Tier III proposal. John Swanton, a CARB spokesman, says that was because "we limited our remarks to the specific issues included in the EPA proposal."

Asked about the omission, an EPA spokeswoman says, "EPA is aware of Ozone Transport Commission’s interest in an aftermarket catalytic converter regulation and OTC’s concerns regarding the proposed Tier 3 rule.  Currently, EPA is in the process of reviewing stakeholder comments received during the comment period, which was extended to July 1, 2013. EPA will take all comments received under consideration as we work to complete the final rule."



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