Buffalo News (Another Voice/Clean Air): Activists, industry agree on heating oil standards

(March 17, 2010)


By John Maniscalco and Scott Santarella
Published: March 17, 2010

New Yorkers have a chance to dramatically improve air quality through a sensible and long overdue requirement that heating oil meet the same federal requirements currently applied to automotive diesel fuel. The State Assembly has already passed a bill that would lower the sulfur content of the heating oil used in homes and buildings across the state. However, so far, the State Senate has failed to act.

From a regulatory standpoint, unlike automotive fuels like gasoline and diesel, heating oil is often treated as a regional issue (the product is mostly used in the Northeast). It is therefore up to us — the people of New York State and the nation's largest consumers of heating oil — to demand change from our elected representatives.

Heating oil is essentially the same as diesel fuel, but the sulfur content permitted in heating oil in New York State is up to 15,000 parts per million, or about 1,000 times the amount allowed in diesel fuel for vehicles. Requiring a shift to the ultra-low sulfur heating oil would reduce sulfur by 99 percent. That is the equivalent to shutting down 2z coal-fired generating plants in the state, and would dramatically reduce the amount of nitrogen oxides — key ingredients in the formation of smog—by as much as 30 percent.

Similarly, reducing sulfur content in heating fuel would greatly reduce the emissions into the atmosphere of sulfur dioxide, which shows up as particulate matter in the air causing a variety of environmental and health problems.

The groups calling for State Senate passage of the measure include the usual warriors in the fight for clean air — the American Lung Association in New York, Environmental Advocates of New York, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the New York League of Conservation Voters and WE ACT for Environmental Justice to name a few. However, this broad coalition of supporters also includes labor (the Teamsters represents working men and women in the heating oil industry) and, most notably, the heating oil industry itself.

The retail heating oil industry is among the most passionate supporters of the measure. Upon close look, it isn't difficult to see why. Since ultra-low sulfur heating oil burns more efficiently and is readily available, the industry expects there could be as much as a $40 million annual savings from lower maintenance costs and as much as a 4 percent savings per household in equipment efficiencies. In addition, it makes heating oil on par with natural gas in environmental pedigree.

With such a diverse coalition supporting cleaner, more affordable heating oil, it's hard to argue against it. All we need now is for our State Senate to pass it and put New York on the path toward cleaner air and a better future.

John Maniscalco is president and CEO of the New York Oil Heating Association. Scott Santarella is president and CEO of the American Lung Association in New York.