Did you know that your car is burning killer gas? Remember, you’re logged into an environmental news site here, but I bet this is something you’ve never thought about — even if everything else you do is green.

Burning gasoline, like burning diesel, puts a lot of sulfur in the air. Diesel has been substantially cleaned up, thanks to federal regulations, but gasoline won’t win any environmental awards. That’s why the feds on Friday announced new standards that it claimed will cut gasoline sulfur levels by more than 60 percent and “help avoid 2,400 premature deaths per year, 3,200 hospital admissions and 23,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims the law will save between $8 and $23 billion per year in health care costs.

Everybody is for preventing childhood illnesses, but not everybody is for these laws. Gasoline refiners are the big opponent, and they claim the new rules will raise prices at the pump by 6 to 8 cents a gallon (pushing them over the hump to $4 in many places). But the greens counter that it will only be a 1-cent difference. Americans as a whole support improved gasoline standards by a 2-to-1 margin, according to the American Lung Association.

But a chorus of Republican leaders, all of whom hate the EPA with a passion, are sounding off. According to Sen. David Vitter of the oil and gas state Louisiana, “This move signals a frightening flood of new rules under the potential Gina McCarthy-led EPA and represents one of a litany of likely regulations that require transparency to justify both the costs and the benefits.”

It’s not just sulfur. According to the EPA, the rules will also reduce volatile organic compounds by 80 percent, tighten the standard for particulate matter, and reduce vapor emissions to almost zero. What are vapor emissions? That’s the fumes that come off the pump and from your tank when you’re gassing up.  

These are Tier III standards, cutting allowed sulfur by two thirds. Tier II reduced sulfur levels in fuel from 300 parts per million to 30, and these new ones cut that to 10 .

Here’s some reaction from green groups, which all love the new law:

  • “These common-sense standards will save lives, save money and clean up our air — all at a minimal cost.” Luke Tonachel, NRDC
  • “The path from a car’s tailpipe to our lungs is surprisingly short, and more than one in three Americans live in areas where air pollution levels exceed at least one federal limit.” Michelle Robinson, Union of Concerned Scientists
  • “This standard is good news for all Americans who want to breathe clean air.” Daniel Gatti, Environment America
Automakers are siding with the greens on this one. The Auto Alliance, which represents 12 carmakers, said, “This is a big step forward that will help the U.S. catch up to the cleaner fuels available in other industrialized nations.”

Related on MNN: The worst everyday air pollutants and what they do to our bodies

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Cleaning up killer gasoline
The EPA is proposing a two-thirds cut in gasoline's sulfur content, but refiners say the new law will push up gas prices.