City council passes limits for polluting sulfur

By July 2015, all home heating oil sold in Philadelphia would have to meet new sulfur limits unanimously passed Thursday by City Council.

The limits would "make a tangible difference in the health of our citizens" by improving air quality, said Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who sponsored the measure. It now goes to Mayor Nutter, who is expected to sign it.

City Council member Blondell Reynolds Brown proposed the bill to lower the sulfur limit in home heating oil.

 For background, here's a link to the story that ran when the measure was first introduced.

And a second story that ran when it passed out of committee.

Here's the rest of the story that ran in this morning's Inquirer:

The bill was intended to put the city in alignment with sulfur standards in surrounding states - so the city would not become a dumping ground for dirtier fuel - but the timetable actually moves the city to the forefront.

"This puts Philadelphia at the same level as New York, and a year ahead of New Jersey and Delaware," said Joseph O. Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, who said he was "very pleased" by the vote.

 The city, which is authorized by the state to have its own air-management program, will limit sulfur to 15 parts per million by July 1, 2015.

 New York has that limit now; New Jersey and Delaware have mandated it as of July 2016. Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, where the limit is set by the Department of Environmental Protection, the limit is 500 p.p.m. by July 2016.

Aleta Rogers, who manages the heating oil program at the Energy Co-op, a Philadelphia nonprofit cooperative that has been in the heating oil business for 35 years, said the new requirement would "benefit the consumer in the end."

Based on analyses of the results when sulfur limits went into effect for diesel fuel, she said, consumers could wind up paying about five cents more per gallon for home heating oil.

But because it burns cleaner and more efficiently, those customers would save on maintenance costs and overall fuel use, she said. Add the health benefits and the savings bump up much higher.

Minott said, however, that at a recent hearing, officials at South Philadelphia-based Philadelphia Energy Solutions said most of the heating oil produced there already meets the 15 p.p.m. limit, so there may be no cost increase.

"My sense is that it's not going to hit us in the pocketbook, except for those rare times when the refinery is not able to refine the 15 p.p.m.," Minott said. If the limits go into effect, in those specific cases, "they would not be able to sell that in Philadelphia."

 While most homes in the city are heated by natural gas, about 6 percent - or 36,000 homes - use oil, as do some smaller businesses.

All oil contains sulfur, and when it burns, it releases sulfur dioxide, a lung irritant. It also leads to the formation of fine particles that can be breathed deep into the lungs, often with other pollutants attached.

These can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory ailments as well as heart disease, leading to heart attacks.

Sulfur dioxide also contributes to haze.

"Asthma is on the rise among young people, while senior citizens are experiencing a host of health issues directly related to air pollution," Reynolds Brown said. "The passage of this bill signals Philadelphia's continued role as a leader ... in the area of the environment and sustainability."