Motorists in the Pittsburgh area won't have to fill up their tanks with a summer blend of gas if the state House follows the Senate's lead.
The Senate approved legislation sponsored by Elder Vogel, Jr. (R-Beaver, Lawrence Counties) that eliminates a regulation that requires service stations to sell gasoline with a low vapor pressure between May 1 and September 15 in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland Counties. Switching to the "summer gas" is intended to reduce emissions and curb air pollution.
"With fuel prices already rising, we need to get this legislation passed before the switch to summer gas," Vogel said. "If we wait, the effects could be catastrophic to the folks in western Pennsylvania. Not only does this mandate mean higher gas prices, but it could mean that motorists will be scrambling to find any gas to put in their tanks.
In 1999 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began requiring dealers in the Pittsburgh region to sell the "summer blend" which is usually more expensive than gas sold elsewhere in Pennsylvania as well as neighboring Ohio and West Virginia. The EPA rule is imposed in select metropolitan areas across the country where particularly heavy air pollution is recorded. Because it is not used nationally, the gas is not produced on a large scale.
"It comes by pipeline from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. So we're at the end of the pipeline," said Vogel. "And for the refineries to only make this special gas, which is only three percent of the gas they make, is going to be an issue because with the refiners closing we're not sure that we'll be able to get the gas this summer."
Vogel and Senator Tim Solobay (D-Washington County) authored the legislation after learning three of the region's largest summer blend suppliers are closing, meaning the gas will be even more expensive and in even shorter supply.
"If we don't get this changed we could literally run out of gas," said Vogel.
The bill would also terminate another regulation that applies to the same 7-county Pittsburgh area and 5 counties in the southeastern part of the state (Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia). That rule requires gas stations in those two regions to install Stage II vapor recovery systems on fuel pumps to prevent the release of gasoline vapors. That EPA regulation contains a provision to eliminate the requirement if refueling emissions controls in vehicles become widespread.
"Since 2008 all the cars sold in Pennsylvania have had to meet California emissions standards. And with vapor recovery systems on all the cars since the year 2000, I think we have cleaned up the air to a degree," said Vogel. "We need to go back and look at ways that the DEP can meet the air quality standards that the EPA has put forward."
The legislation now awaits action in the House.