EPD: Summer gas in some Georgia counties may be cheaper

awomack@macon.comMarch 5, 2014 

Gasoline in some Middle Georgia counties may be a few cents cheaper this summer if the Georgia Department of Natural Resources approves a proposal to remove state environmental regulations from summer fuel.

Air quality in a 45-county area -- mostly in metro Atlanta but also reaching south to Jasper, Jones, Monroe, Putnam and Upson counties -- has recently improved and meets federal ozone requirements, according to the state Environmental Protection Division.

DNR board members are scheduled to hold a public hearing Thursday on a proposal to remove state fuel regulations. A formal vote is scheduled for March 25, said William Cook, manager of the EPD’s Engines and Fuels Unit.

If the proposal passes, motorists in those counties could see a 7-cent savings at the pump this summer.

The 45-county area previously had been designated as a “non-attainment zone,” causing the EPD to put regulations in place for gasoline sold in those counties.

Beginning in 1999, fuel in those counties -- known as “Georgia gas” -- had to have a lower vapor pressure than the 9-pound gas sold in the rest of the state during the summer months, Cook said.

In 2003, the state included a low sulfur component to the regulation, he said.

Now that the area meets federal ozone requirements, an EPD analysis has shown that removing state regulations won’t negatively impact air quality because federal rules have become nearly as stringent, Cook said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which also must sign off on the rule change, already requires the 9-pound summer blend beginning June 1 each year.

If the DNR board approves removing state regulations, gas stations likely will start buying the cheaper fuel when they can find it. Some suppliers will be selling both blends, Cook said.

“The fuel that’s being burned currently in Bibb County would be the same fuel burned in Jones and Monroe,” he said.

While it’s a bit early to forecast summer gas prices, spring prices are expected to jump an average of 15 to 30 cents a gallon in Georgia, said Mark Jenkins, AAA spokesman.

Part of the increase is due to refineries pausing production to switch to the summer fuel blends, temporarily decreasing output, Jenkins said.

Cook said a 2011 analysis found an average 7-cent difference between “Georgia gas” and the summer blend used by the rest of the state.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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