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New York State Senate Passes Low-Sulfur Heating Oil Bill

June 18, 2010

New York’s State Senate put New York on the path to join its Northeastern neighbors Maine and Connecticut in mandating low-sulfur heating oil. While the bill passed the New York Assembly by a landslide of 146-1, the State Senate vote proved more contentious and the bill’s passage provoked outrage from several Senators.

The bill, S1145C, would limit the sulfur content of heating oil to 15 parts per million, the same low-sulfur standard that already applies to on-road diesel fuel, and includes a provision for the governor to suspend the requirement if there isn’t sufficient fuel available. The Senate cited the same benefits of low-sulfur heating oil that had previously been cited by the New York Oil Heating Association and the New York chapter of the American Lung Association: lower soot pollution that causes respiratory problems, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and improved system performance and system efficiency that comes form burning a cleaner fuel. However, the bill’s opponents claim that it will lead to soaring heating oil prices, and even shortages of heating oil, for upstate residents.

Upstate Senators accused their colleagues of not recognizing the needs of upstate residents. of Binghamton, NY quoted Senator Tom Libous:

This legislation passed by Senate Democrats will hurt families and businesses throughout Upstate New York. I am shocked that my Democrat colleagues who represent Upstate communities would support this bill, which benefits New York City and devastates families throughout the rest of the state.

Senator Catherine Young expressed a similar opinion on the Senate floor, reports WBEN of Buffalo:

“It sounds very disingenuous to me, when you say that the people in our regions are winners. That this doesn’t hurt the people in our regions, that it protects them. That’s not true,” Young told her downstate colleagues on the Senate floor. “People are hurting in upstate New York.”

Wherever low-sulfur heating oil legislation has been proposed, it has faced objections that it would create a more costly fuel and lead to fuel shortages. Yet low-sulfur proposals have also enjoyed the support of the state heating oil industry in each case, and the heating oil industry has argued that the move to low-sulfur heating oil will actually expand the available supply of heating oil (because it will have similar specifications to other distillate fuels) and save consumers money through improved efficiency and lower maintenance costs.

The bill remains to be signed by Governor Paterson, but it seems to be only a matter of time before upstate New York (and the rest of the Northeast) moves to low-sulfur heating oil. Already law in Maine and Connecticut, low-sulfur mandates have been proposed in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well, and the shift to low-sulfur fuels has received added momentum from changes within the refining industry.

Clean heating oil is on the march in the Northeast. The more states that make the switch, the smoother the transition to production and distribution networks of the low-sulfur fuel will be.

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National Oilheat Research Alliance ECC is funded in part through the National Oilheat Research Alliance.