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Clean Air Act waiver could ease gas shortage

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POSTED: September 28, 2008 5:01 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA /The Times

The four-lane Thurmon Tanner Parkway now runs between Spout Springs Road in Flowery Branch to Plainview Road in Oakwood. Another section of the road runs from Mundy Mill Road to Atlanta Highway.

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Hall County may have more gasoline in coming days, even if it is a little bit dirtier.

The Environmental Protection Agency waived a state requirement on sulfur content for gas sold in 45 Georgia counties Tuesday afternoon to help mitigate the effects of local gas shortages.

Government and industry officials praised the temporary waiver, which lasts through Oct. 12, and said it will help ease supply shortages in Georgia until oil refineries affected by Hurricanes Ike and Gustav resume their normal fuel production.

The waiver, signed by EPA administrator Steve Johnson, lets fuel distributors supply Georgia with gasoline from areas of the country that have less stringent fuel requirements.

Officials in the gasoline industry have said the low-sulfur requirements for fuel sold in the 45 counties have made it harder for gas stations to stay stocked. Still, according to the waiver letter, the fuel must meet federal requirements for sulfur content.

The waiver provides more options for fuel in a time of limited supply, said Jim Harrison, a member of the board of directors for the Georgia Oil Association.

"It just makes it easier, and it will make fuel more attainable for this area," Harrison said.

With more fuel to sell, fuel prices could drop to mirror those in other regions of the country, said Gregg Laskoski, managing director of public relations for AAA.

"There are other areas that probably are (already) selling their gasoline at a lower price because they have greater availability," Laskoski said.

The EPA waived the same requirement on Sept. 5 in anticipation of Hurricane Ike. That waiver expired Sept. 15 and was not reissued until today.

Gov. Sonny Perdue wrote a letter to Johnson on Monday requesting another waiver after some suppliers indicated they had fuel they could bring to Georgia if the state’s specific Clean Air Act requirements were waived, said Bert Brantley, the governor’s press secretary.

"That was the key for us," Brantley said. "Once we heard that there were suppliers that identified specific areas of product ... they could bring in with the waiver, ... we knew that it would help."

However, while the waiver will bring more gasoline to the state, it will not erase the fact that many of the state’s suppliers rely on refineries in the Gulf of Mexico that still have not recovered from the effects of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, Brantley said.

"This will help, but this will not fill up every tank in metro Atlanta," he said. "... The situation will not be completely back to normal until production in the Gulf is back to normal. But there are some suppliers who can get access to some gas in other areas of the country and bring it down, which will help, somewhat.

"Every bit helps when you’re dealing with a situation like this. Every extra truckload that we can bring in will certainly help the situation that much more."

The governor also issued an executive order lifting certain restrictions for the weight and size of commercial and tanker trucks to allow distributors to bring in larger loads of fuel. That order, issued last week, expires Saturday, or when the fuel shortage has ended.

"Hopefully, that will help the process of getting that gas in here. We didn’t want any state regulation that impeded the flow of gas into the state," Brantley said.

Waiving the requirements allows for the introduction of dirtier-burning fuels than what the region is used to. But Brantley said recent mild weather conditions, and the time frame of the waiver, will mitigate the impact on the area’s air quality.

And in a serious fuel shortage, the environment takes a back seat to a functioning economy.

"We want to do all we can to play our part in having clean air, but at the same time, you know, we ... have to balance that out with our ability to be productive and get to work and have our economy continue to work," Brantley said. "And that would be very difficult with fuel shortages."



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