EPA Settles Gasoline Dispute with Trade Organization

Article excerpt

The Environmental Protection Agency has rewritten its rules on the cleanliness of imported gasoline to settle trade complaints from Venezuela and Brazil.

The action, completed Tuesday, is the ultimate fallout from a 1996 World Trade Organization ruling that provisions of the Clean Air Act violated global trade agreements.

The new regulations are largely procedural and should have no effect on the cleanliness of the nation's air, administration officials said yesterday.

"There's not a potential for degradation from 1990 [clear-air] levels," an administration official said yesterday.

But some environmental groups don't accept that assessment and also see the gasoline ruling as a harbinger of bigger clashes between U.S. laws and international trade agreements.

"The rule weakens enforcement of our clean-air standards and will put the East Coast cities at greater risk of dirtier air," said Dan Seligman, senior trade fellow at the Sierra Club.

Furthermore, he said, "The WTO basically empowers foreign interests to be the squeaky wheel, so we're always going to see more deference, as a result, to foreign interests who can wave the WTO club."

A 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act requires American refineries to keep certain pollutants in gasoline at or lower than their 1990 levels. But the EPA reasoned that the data supplied by foreign refineries could not be readily verified. So it averaged the 1990 benchmarks set by domestic producers and applied that standard to importers.

Venezuela, one of the biggest exporters of gasoline to the United States, said the EPA rules set a higher standard for imports and gave domestic producers an unfair advantage. …