The Bush Administration’s recent approval of EPA rules that would extend low-emission standards already established for the trucking industry to off-road vehicles will benefit commercial fleets indirectly. The action will cause ultra-low sulfur diesel to gain more market penetration, which will make concerns over shortages of so-called clean diesel a non-issue, say industry experts.

“The indirect effect is that if they [off-road vehicle users] use the same fuel [as truckers], then there’s more capacity to produce that fuel— it’s a positive effect, although it’s a ways before we will see this,” analyst Martin Labbe told Fleet Owner, adding that the rules are a step toward creating a uniform diesel fuel.

Happy with the news is The American Trucking Associations (ATA), which has been lobbying for the creation of uniform diesel fuel.

“Our position has been all along that all sectors should get their fair share,” Glen Kedzie, ATA assistant general counsel & environmental counsel told Fleet Owner. “Historically it seems like on-road is getting a disproportionate amount of environmental legislation. “It’s an issue of equity and fairness across the board.”

According to the rule, sulfur levels in off-road diesel will have to fall to 500 parts per million (ppm) in 2007, from the current 3,000 ppm standard. By 2010, off-road diesel engines will be required to use diesel with sulfur levels of 15 ppm. By comparison, commercial truck regulations lead the low emissions trend, as trucks are currently required to use 500 ppm diesel, with a 15 ppm requirement to kick in in 2010.

“It’s a ripple effect— we’re meeting the standards before the off-road rules come into place,” Kedzie noted.

Although the new rule is expected to go a long way toward eliminating the need for typically expensive “boutique” fuels, ATA is keeping an eye on the progress of retrofits by oil refineries as they gear up for the low-sulfur quotas.

“We want to make sure the refineries have the capacity to produce the diesel [that run commercial vehicles],” Kedzie said, noting that with every major shift in refinery production comes the potential for complications in the oil supply chain.

Low-emissions diesel engines for off-road vehicles will be based on the same technologies used for on-road vehicles, namely high-efficiency catalytic converters and particulate-matter traps.