For Release: April 24, 1997
International Joint Commission Asks the United States and Canada to
Mandate Sulfur Content of Gasoline at Current California Standards
To realize the benefits of new voluntary initiatives to reduce automobile pollution, the
International Joint Commission (IJC) has officially asked the
governments of the United States
and Canada to adopt uniform nationwide standards of an annual average sulfur content in
gasoline of 30 parts per million (ppm) and a maximum of 80 ppm, optimally by 2001, but
certainly no later than 2005. The Commission is acting on the advice of its International Air
Quality Advisory Board which is made up of U.S. and Canadian scientists and air pollution
program administrators who consider transboundary air quality issues.
The automobile industry states that high levels of sulfur degrade the efficiency of
catalytic converters and oxygen sensing technology, which are critical components in automobile
emission control systems. A recent voluntary agreement between the United States federal
government and automobile manufactures will allow earlier access by Americans to National
Low Emissions Vehicles (NLEV) by the year 2001. Originally, NLEVs were to be introduced by
regulation in 2004. Canadian manufacturers have also agreed to participate in a NLEV program
on the same timeline. A substantial reduction of sulfur in gasoline is key to the implementation
of these programs and to their success in achieving lower emissions, as current sulfur levels will
impair the ability of automobile emission control systems to achieve targeted limits.
Average sulfur content in gasoline (outside of California) currently varies from 300 ppm
to 350 ppm in the United States and Canada, with some exceptions such as Ontario which
averages in the order of 550 ppm. Because of its severe air pollution, California has been the
world leader in requiring cleaner fuels. Since 1996, California has legislated sulfur in gasoline
be limited to either 40 ppm maximum or 30 ppm annual average with an 80 ppm maximum.
Proven oil refining technology is available and in use to produce gasoline to this standard. The
Commission is convinced that the associated production costs are more than balanced by
improvements in air quality and benefits to human health.
The American Automobile Manufacturers Association has petitioned the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency for sulfur reductions as legislated in California, maintaining
that current sulfur levels in the rest of the U.S. will degrade the efficiency of new emission
control technology. Sulfur reduction is also vital for the development of the next generation of
automobiles, such as some of those to be powered by fuel cells. In 1997, the Ozone Transport
Assessment Group comprised of representatives from the eastern states recommended that the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopt and implement a rule for an appropriate sulfur
standard to further reduce emissions and assist vehicle technology and fuel systems to achieve
maximum long term performance.
In Canada, a federal-provincial Government Working Group recently released a report for
public comment that suggests three options regarding the future sulfur content in gasoline: reduce
to 30 ppm annual average and 80 ppm maximum in all of Canada effective January 1, 2002, with
some variation possible by region (essentially the California sulfur standard) reduce to 150 ppm
annual average and 200 ppm maximum in all of Canada effective January 1, 2002; or defer
further action on sulphur levels in Canada and match in the future the least restrictive U.S. fuel
requirement of the new national vehicle standards expected in the 2004 time frame. On the last
option, it must be noted that British Columbia has already taken regulatory action to reduce the
sulfur content of gasoline sold in that province.
The International Joint Commission is an independent international organization
established by the United States and Canada under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. Three
members are appointed by the President of the United States and three by the Government of
Canada. The Commission deals with transboundary environmental issues on the request of both
governments to prevent and resolve disputes.
Additional information about the IJC and the International Air Quality Advisory
Board can be obtained on the Internet at www.ijc.org(.)