Master of deception, EPA hides gasoline threat

The EPA is hiding a far greater threat to Americans’ health than Volkswagen's recent “dieselgate” scandal, writes David VanderGriend. This column appears in the December issue of EPM.
By Dave VanderGriend | November 10, 2015

We know, it’s a serious matter to accuse an important federal agency of deceiving the public. However, after extensive review, the Urban Air Initiative has concluded that there is no other word than deception to describe what the U.S. EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality professional technocrats have been doing for many years. In fact, EPA’s ongoing deception makes the Volkswagen “dieselgate” scandal pale in comparison.

The world recently learned that 11 million Volkswagen clean diesel cars contain defeat-device software that reduces real-world tailpipe emissions only when the car is being tested, not when it’s driven on the road. For years, these cars have spewed dangerous emissions 40 times greater than what’s allowed. After the news broke, QTAQ officials did something they should have been doing all along: require diesel vehicles to be tested under real-world conditions instead of in a laboratory with an emissions model. OTAQ’s director attempted to minimize the problem, saying that VW’s cars “account for less than 1 percent of U.S. cars on the road.” 

While trying to downplay the issue, the truth is that the EPA is hiding a far greater threat to Americans’ health. More than 250 million cars consume approximately 140 billion gallons of gasoline annually, while diesel consumption is only in the 40 billion gallon range. Yet, despite gasoline’s dominance, the EPA’s primary focus in reducing pollution has been on diesel. OTAQ contends that gasoline only requires minor tweaking (e.g., sulfur reduction), and that vehicle technology does enough to reduce dangerous gasoline emissions. However, this is simply not true.

At least 30 percent of typical U.S. gasoline consists of toxic compounds including benzene, a known carcinogen, and several suspected carcinogens like toluene and xylene. They are used to boost octane but resist complete combustion. The result is a mix of particulates and toxins that comes out of the tailpipe as billions of invisible, extremely harmful toxic particles. They penetrate into homes, cars and schools, where they then enter our lungs and bloodstreams. For many years, the EPA has hidden the truth about what consumer gasoline contains, how that gasoline is combusted under real-world driving conditions, and what actually comes out of the tailpipe into the air we breathe.

To hide the real truth, the EPA has concocted hypothetical test fuels (blended with the help of oil industry refining experts) and defective models to predict gasoline emissions. Real-world measurements of pollution in major cities around the world prove that EPA’s models are wildly inaccurate, and that exhaust from gasoline pollutants dominate urban environments by almost twice the predicted amount. In fact, EPA’s models fail to account for a majority of the most lethal particle-borne air toxins, ultra-fine particulates, which come almost exclusively from the benzene-based octane compounds the EPA refuses to regulate, despite Congressional directives to do so. Instead they act surprised when VW and other diesel vehicles are polluting more on the street than in the lab, when the EPA knowingly uses test fuels that do not exist at any consumer retail pump. Has your mileage ever matched the sticker miles-per-gallon rate?

In recent comments to EPA’s Tier 3 rule, Mercedes Benz noted that the “single most important property in designing a gasoline engine is octane.” For years, car companies have urged EPA to improve gasoline quality by offering consumers higher octane gasoline with higher ethanol blends. Ethanol provides clean octane, in contrast to benzene-based dirty octane. Instead, EPA has done the exact opposite, and aligned itself with oil interests to unfairly put the entire regulatory burden squarely on the automakers, as well as falsely blaming ethanol for increased emissions.

In the 1990 Clean Air Act, Congress directed EPA to reduce the use of benzene-based octane compounds in gasoline “to the greatest achievable extent.” Twenty-five years later, EPA technocrats have refused to obey the law, and used deceptive science to justify their inaction. EPA’s gasoline cover-up is far more serious than its diesel cover-up, because gasoline exhaust is far more pervasive, and its pollutants are far more dangerous to humans.

EPA’s technocrats are smart people. They are not making these mistakes because they are misinformed about how gasoline composition and octane alternatives impact tailpipe emissions. Reluctantly, we must conclude that this deception has been deliberate. We know it has played out over many years. The VW scandal has finally put the media spotlight on these regulatory practices, and the public is increasingly disgusted as more facts come out. 

It is time for the EPA to get real. That is why Urban Air Initiative and its allies have been challenging EPA in court, and in the court of public opinion. The American people have waited far too long to be told the truth about their gasoline, their cars, and what is in the air that they breathe.

Author: David VanderGriend,
CEO, ICM Inc.; President, Urban Air Initiative