Triangle and Triad drivers saved an estimated $18 million on gasoline this summer after the state persuaded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that drivers could stop using a more expensive fuel blend that was thought – incorrectly – to reduce air pollution, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Wednesday.
For years, EPA had required the Triangle and Triad regions to switch to a summer blend formulated to emit fewer volatile organic compounds and reduce ground-level ozone. But DENR employees used air-quality data to show that the summertime gas switch had an insignificant impact on air quality, while adding about 7 cents to the price of each gallon.
“The EPA approval to change the summertime gasoline standard in the Triangle and Triad saves consumers and businesses money while having no impact on air quality,” Sheila Holman, director of the N.C. Division of Air Quality, said in a statement. “Science is always evolving with advancements in technology and newfound information.”
The EPA decision came in May, but the less-expensive, reformulated fuel didn’t begin showing up in North Carolina until midsummer. The rule change is expected to remain in effect next year.
“Next summer you could anticipate greater changes, because the cheaper gas will be on the market for the entire season,” said Crystal Feldman, a DENR spokeswoman.
Charlotte-area drivers continued to use the more expensive fuel blend this summer because pollution levels there made that region ineligible to request an exemption from the federal fuel requirement this year. But Feldman said Charlotte’s ozone readings have improved, and drivers there might be allowed to stop using the summer fuel blend in 2015.
Ground-level ozone, the primary ingredient in smog, is created when volatile organic compounds react in sunlight with nitrous oxides, which are produced primarily from cars and power plants.
North Carolina has high levels of volatile organic compounds created naturally by trees and other vegetation, so there was no discernible effect on ozone levels when these compounds were reduced in gasoline, DENR said.