New Clean Gas Rules: Obama, Oil industry square off over perceived pain at the pump of new sulfur emissions-cutting proposal.

The 9-Cent Frame Around Obama's New Gas Rules

The 9-Cent Frame Around Obama's New Gas Rules

The Slatest has moved! You can find new stories here.
The Slatest
Your News Companion
March 29 2013 1:09 PM

The 9-Cent Frame Around Obama's New Gas Rules

The oil industry is warning that Obama's new gas rules will be felt at the pump by consumers

Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

The Obama administration today is moving forward with new cleaner gasoline rules, ones that would reduce the sulfur emissions from cars and trucks beginning in 2017. Setting aside for now exactly how big of a deal the long-delayed proposal is—something that depends on what you think of what the AtlanticWire's Philip Bump accurately describes as the president's "moneyball environmentalism"—it's interesting to see how media outlets are dealing with the frame that the oil industry has preemptively placed around it.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.

If the White House had its way, the debate would be about the health and environmental impacts of the proposed standards, and not how they may or may not be felt at the pump by consumers in the near-term. But that's the fight that oil companies and their allies in Congress want to have, and given they're raising the most vocal objections to the rules—which still need to survive public comment—they're getting their chance to be heard.

(The lawmakers who oppose the new rules do so on varying levels. Republicans generally flat out object to it, while most of the 20-odd Democrats who have come out publicly against it in recent days are asking the White House to simply delay the proposal for a year.)


Both sides have set out the early markers in the price-at-the-pump debate: Obama and the EPA say the rules will add less than one cent to the cost of a gallon of gas; oil companies and their allies in Congress say the figure could be closer to 9 cents. And so the battle for top billing begins.

The Washington Post waits one paragraph to raise the issue, before letting the White House go first. (Headline, "Obama administration moves ahead with sweeping rules requiring cleaner gasoline".) Graphs two and three:

The proposed standards would add less than a penny a gallon to the cost of gasoline while delivering an environmental benefit akin to taking 33 million cars off the road, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made yet.
Oil industry officials, however, said the cost would be at least double the administration’s estimate and could add up to 9 cents a gallon in some places.

The Associated Press leads with the debate, and then comes as close as you can to giving equal billing. (Headline, "EPA taking aim at auto emissions, sulfur in gas".) Graphs one and two:

Reducing sulfur in gasoline and tightening emissions standards on cars beginning in 2017, as the Obama administration is proposing, would come with costs as well as rewards. The cost at the pump for cleaner air across the country could be less than a penny or as high as 9 cents a gallon, depending on who is providing the estimate.
An oil industry study says the proposed rule being unveiled Friday by the administration could increase gasoline prices by 6 cents to 9 cents a gallon. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates an increase of less than a penny and an additional $130 to the cost of a vehicle in 2025.

The New York Times gives the critics a small head start. (Headline, "E.P.A. Plans Stricter Limit for Sulfur in Gasoline"). Graphs two and five:

The proposal has been ready for about 15 months but was delayed until after the election because opponents will argue that it will raise the price of gasoline, according to people familiar with its history. ...
Refiners said it could raise the price of a gallon by 6 to 8 cents, but clean-air groups said it would be more like 1 cent. The difference depends in part on details of the rule that have not been made public.

The Wall Street Journal lets the oil companies get out of the gates fast, but allows the EPA to quickly counter. (Headline: "EPA Plans to Require Cleaner Gas".) Graphs one and two:

The Obama administration is moving forward with tough new standards to cut pollution from cars, prompting an outcry from refiners who say the proposal could raise the cost of producing gasoline by nearly 10 cents a gallon.
The Environmental Protection Agency, which says the rule will cost considerably less, is expected to say Friday that it wants to reduce the amount of sulfur in gasoline to an average of 10 parts per million, down from the current standard of 30 ppm, people briefed on the plan said.

Fox News appears to be the outlier here—shocker, I know—leading with the oil industry complaints before taking their time to get to the White House figures. (Headlines, "Oil industry, lawmakers say EPA fuel rule would hike prices at the pump".) Graphs one, two and then seven:

Oil industry representatives and congressional Republicans accused the Obama administration Friday of effectively jacking up gas prices across the country after the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a plan to clean up gasoline and automobile emissions. 
The proposal, released Friday morning, aims to reduce sulfur in gasoline by more than 60 percent in 2017. The agency claimed the change would save lives and cut down significantly on respiratory ailments by making the air cleaner.  ...
The EPA estimates a more modest impact. They say it will increase gas prices by less than a penny per gallon and add $130 to the cost of a vehicle in 2025. 

(There's no MSNBC online story that I can find on the topic. I'll update if/when I do. The version NBC News is running is the AP version, fwiw.)

It's worth remembering that there's no way of knowing which figures are correct, at this point it's really just a battle to define the perceived pain at the pump. We haven't seen the rulemaking language yet, let alone seen the rules in action. (It's safe to assume that the White House is giving us the lowest estimate they can justify; the oil companies the highest they can). But given the long-delayed announcement is already being presented largely within the frame of the short-term cost to consumers—and not the long-term health and environmental benefits—it's pretty clear who's winning Round 1. Whether that's enough to again derail the new rules remains to be seen.