N.Y. Legislature passes bill to cut sulfur in heating oil

June 25, 2010
The New York State Assembly passed legislation in late June to dramatically reduce sulfur levels in the commonly used #2 heating oil sold in the state.

ALBANY, N.Y. — The New York State Assembly passed legislation in late June to dramatically reduce sulfur levels in the commonly used #2 heating oil sold in the state. The State Senate passed the legislation last week and Gov. David Paterson is expected to sign it into law.

The Petroleum Marketers Association of America, the National Association of Oil Heat Service Managers, and the New York Oil Heating Association all favored the legislation. It is the position of NAOHSM that bio and low sulfur fuel are necessary for the oil heat industry to compete with natural gas.

Lower sulfur levels will help reduce acid rain, regional haze, and soot (particulate matter) pollution, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. Soot pollution is linked to asthma, and heart and lung disease.

Starting in July 2012, the state bill (S. 1145-A/A. 8642) will reduce sulfur levels in #2 heating oil sold in the state by up to a thousand fold from the current range of between 2,000-15,000 parts per million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limit for diesel truck and bus fuel of up to 15 ppm.

“This bill is a life-saver,” said Isabelle Silverman, an Environmental Defense Fund attorney, who co-authored EDF's December report: The Bottom of the Barrel: How the Dirtiest Heating Oil Pollutes Our Air and Harms Our Health.

“Reducing soot pollution is especially important in New York City, where asthma hospitalization rates among children are twice the national average. However, phasing out the dirtiest grades of heating oil — #4 and #6 oil — is also crucial to dramatically reduce soot pollution because heating oil is responsible for more soot pollution in New York City than cars and trucks combined.”

Eighty-six percent of New York City's heating oil soot pollution comes from only 1%, or nearly 10,000, of the city's buildings that burn #4 and #6 heating oils, according to the EDF's Bottom of the Barrel report.

Earlier in June, the environmental group testified before the New York City Council Environmental Protection Committee on a bill, Int. 194, about cleaning up #4 and #6 fuel oil.

Silverman urged the city council to reduce the sulfur content of No. 4 heating oil that can be as high as 3,000 parts per million to a firm limit of 1,500 parts per million — just as the City Council set firm sulfur limits for No. 6 and No. 2 heating oil sold in New York City — and eliminate the Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner's discretionary powers to increase that sulfur limit. There is a direct correlation between sulfur content in heating oil and soot and sulfur dioxide emissions.

Silverman also asked the city council to design sustainability standards for any biodiesel used in New York City to help grow the market for biodiesel from local sources, such as restaurant grease, and avoid the negative environmental consequences that can arise from importing biodiesel from Latin America or using feedstocks that threaten rain forests.

Switching from #4 and #6 heating oils to #2 heating oil or natural gas would reduce soot pollution from these buildings by more than 90%. Although #2 heating oil can be about 10%-15% more expensive than #6 oil based on today's prices, the EDF report concludes that best maintenance practices and low-cost efficiency measures can lower fuel usage by about 20% and save money. Natural gas is cleaner than #2, #4 and #6 heating oils and cheaper.

Low-income buildings can apply for boiler and burner replacement funding available from the U.S. Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP).

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