Dunkirk Observer: Home heating bill expected to pass in New York

(June 28, 2010)

By MICHAEL RUKAVINA

POSTED: June 28, 2010

Legislation that would lower the sulfur content of home heating oil in New York state could soon be signed off by Gov. David Paterson. The bill, however, did not have such a smooth ride before reaching his desk.

The bill, passed by the Senate and Assembly last week, would call for the lowering of sulfur content in no. 2 heating oil. The grade is the same of heating oil most commonly used to heat residential buildings, to the same 15 parts per million limit that already applies to on-road diesel would reduce pollution that is harmful to the environment and poses a threat to public health.

The bill, however, was met with opposition from some lawmakers including state senator Catharine Young, who said the bill was forced through and it will likely create a dangerous shortage in the supply of home heating oil for upstate communities and cause home heating costs to rise drastically this winter for rural customers.

"We are in an economic crisis, and people are hurting in upstate New York; they can't afford to pay their bills," Young said after the senate approved the bill. "I am shocked that my colleagues would vote to raise home heating fuel prices and create a shortage where people who depend on home heating oil aren't going to be able to get it. You are hurting people today."

Young feels the bill would put an unfair burden on upstate residents while exempting New York City from dealing with the costs of the bill. Many large buildings in New York City have been said to burn no. 4 and no. 6 heating oil, fuels that are significantly dirtier and have much higher sulfur content than no. 2 heating oil, but the statewide bill applies only to no. 2 heating oil.

The legislation would mandate the reduction of sulfur content of no. 2 heating oil. The amendment, offered by Senate Republicans, would have pushed the compliance date back by two years to provide adequate time for refineries to adopt the new standards and prevent a dangerous shortage in supply that would drastically increase costs for consumers.

According to Young, a recent study estimated that the shortfall that will be caused if an adequate amount of time is not given to meet the new requirements would result in an increase in the price of home heating fuel by 20 to 30 cents per gallon, costing upstate consumers $1 billion. Consumers could be forced to pay 60 cents more during a particularly cold winter, costing the average upstate family up to an additional $600 to heat their home.

The American Lung Association in New York released a statement applauding the passage of bill, and urged governor Paterson to sign off on it, stating the bill would eliminate as much sulfur as would closing down two and a half of New York's dirty, coal-fired power plants.

"The combustion of sulfur-laden home heating oil increases concentrations of ozone and fine particles in the air that can trigger asthma episodes, exacerbate allergies, decrease lung function, and even shorten life expectancy" said Scott T. Santarella, President & CEO of the American Lung Association in New York. "When more than 12 million New Yorkers already live in counties where air pollution levels endanger lives, it's clear that we must take swift action to protect residents' lung health."

The Lung Association noted that while home heating oil is very similar to diesel fuel, it differs in that there is virtually no limit to the amount of sulfur that can be contained in home heating oil. Because of

its high sulfur content, combustion of home heating oil makes it the second largest source of sulfur dioxide emissions in the state, with only the power sector emitting more.

"New York leads the nation in the amount of homes that are heated by oil," noted Santarella. "Particularly disturbing is the fact that 79 percent of the state's home heating oil consumption occurs in the New York metropolitan region. When all this heating oil is being burned in one concentrated area, it creates a localized pollution problem."

The majority of New York's home heating oil is supplied by East Coast and Gulf Coast refineries, according to senator Young's office, and engineering evaluations show that it would take at least four years to install the proper infrastructure and processing capacity to meet the new mandated reductions in sulfur content.

Paterson has already been said to be an advocate for a switch to low-sulfur heating oil in his energy plan, and is expected to sign the bill into law.