Development and the Environment Part II

A reminder that solutions to our problems are not, and for the most part cannot, be global in scope. Depite being reletively underwhelmed by Mr. Bush’s environmental record, he did push the diesel legislation through in the US – and recieved very little acclaim for it. This is no small matter and the EU and US should continue to lead by example.

World Bank Plays Down Diesel Rules

June 23, 2004; Page A15

The World Bank plans to recommend that developing countries hold off on mandating a cleaner diesel fuel being adopted in the U.S. and Europe, putting the international lender at odds with U.S. environmental regulators.

The World Bank doesn’t have any official authority over a nation’s environmental rules. But because it lends money for projects throughout the developing world, its advice holds great influence there.

The World Bank’s report, scheduled to be released next week, concludes it would be too expensive for many developing countries to mandate diesel fuel that is as low in sulfur as the blend U.S. and European regulators are demanding. For now, the bank says, less-esoteric cleanup strategies will deliver more bang for the buck — moves such as inspecting vehicles periodically to make sure they are being kept in good repair.

“There are a lot of countries that, if they think this is the magic bullet and they invest in this, they’re going to be grossly disillusioned,” said Todd Johnson, a senior environmental specialist at the World Bank and one of the authors of the report. The World Bank agrees it is important for developing countries to move toward lower-sulfur fuels, but for many of those countries, going as far and as fast as the U.S. is “not really a very realistic recommendation,” he said.

At the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Margo Oge, director of the agency’s office of transportation and air quality, said the World Bank report “threatens to undermine the efforts” of developing countries where regulators are pushing for U.S.-style sulfur limits, including Mexico, China, India and Thailand. “It does raise the question: Why are these developing countries moving forward when the bank is advising them to do something significantly different?” she added.

At issue are efforts in developing countries to curb air pollution, particularly in big cities. Sulfur occurs naturally in crude oil, but when it is burned in an engine, it can contribute to respiratory problems in people and to acid rain. Sulfur-heavy diesel fuel also hobbles a new generation of cleaner-diesel vehicles that auto makers are rolling out.

The U.S. has mandated that diesel fuel average no more than 15 parts per million of sulfur by 2006, a tiny fraction of the averages of several hundred parts per million in the U.S. and several thousand parts per million in much of the developing world.

One of the major clean-air goals of the EPA has been to encourage developing countries to follow the U.S.’s lead. Diesel vehicles typically get about 30% better fuel economy than comparable gasoline-powered models, so the EPA figures they could help cut U.S. oil dependence and curb global warming. Burning fuel in an engine produces carbon dioxide, the main suspected global-warming gas.

The World Bank’s stance is supported by the oil industry, in which industry groups say the new U.S. sulfur limits will be too expensive. The World Bank is offering “a realistic view of how air-pollution problems should be addressed in developing countries,” the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association, a London industry group, said in written comments on a draft report in April.

The final version of the World Bank report recommends that a top clean-air priority for developing countries should be removing lead from gasoline.

Then, the World Bank suggests, developing countries should reduce the sulfur level of diesel fuel to 500 parts per million and lower “as soon as possible.” In parts of the developing world where that is “very difficult in the near term,” and where lowering it to 2,000 to 3,000 parts per million “is relatively inexpensive,” the report recommends “immediately moving to this level.”

Environmental activists echoed the EPA’s criticisms. “The bank’s guidelines give cover to any policy maker who wants to do nothing,” said Richard Kassel, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York environmental group.

Write to Jeffrey Ball at

Comments are closed.