MEXICO CITY, June 14 (Reuters) - Arguing that cleaner-burning diesel is not available everywhere in Mexico, the country’s trucking sector is asking for delay of an environmental rule that would mandate that all new vehicles use the fuel, according to an industry letter seen by Reuters.
Such a delay would likely generate criticism of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s government, which has been blasted by environmentalists for its strong support for fossil fuels.
Last Thursday’s letter to the environment minister says failure to postpone the rule will cause more reliance on older, heavily polluting trucks, and due to uncertainty over fuel supplies, stall the purchase of newer models with technologies that sharply cut tailpipe emissions despite using conventional diesel.
The rule requiring that only ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) be used by new heavy vehicles is set to take effect next January. It was designed to reduce pollution from transporting everything from school children to cement and especially the massive volume of U.S. imports that cross Mexico’s northern border.
“We’re just six months away and we need there to be coherence between the fuel and environmental regulations, as well as certainty for planning purposes,” the letter states, signed by associations including truck manufacturers and operators.
The Environment Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The regulation, which was already postponed last September, requires companies to make, import or sell only heavy trucks or buses that exclusively use ULSD, beginning next year.
That provision was aimed at eliminating emissions from older-model trucks, and the letter asks to postpone it due to insufficient access to ULSD.
The associations point to a study they conducted in the spring showing shrinking ULSD availability at gasoline stations nationwide.
According to a random sample of 380 service stations, about 73% sold ULSD, the study showed.
That compares with about 75% in 2019 and 81% in 2018, according to the letter.
The industry says the government must ensure 100% availability, and has noted that nearly two years ago, the Energy Ministry admitted inadequate ULSD supply.
Compared with conventional diesel, low-sulfur diesel can reduce harmful air contaminants like nitrogen oxide and tiny particulate matter by upwards of 90%, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Both contaminants have been found to contribute to deadly respiratory and cardiovascular diseases as well as some cancers.
In the United States, just ULSD could be sold by 2010, and only afterward did the U.S. government mandate that all trucks be equipped to use it.
Mexico’s transport associations want the same two-step approach.
If the government does not modify the timetable, the sector says it will be forced to slam the brakes on buying newer models.
The industry argues that would mean existing trucks will remain on the road longer, extending an already well-worn 19-year average age of the country’s current fleet of trucks, plus an unintended rise in emissions.
Newer models that still use conventional diesel can nonetheless cut nitrogen oxide emissions by more than 80%, and dangerous particulate matter by half, compared with emissions from the older trucks, the associations point out in the letter.
In late 2019, the government gave state-owned oil company Pemex a five-year extension for when it would need to comply with a requirement to stop making conventional diesel, and instead produce only ULSD.
While Pemex currently produces about 117,000 barrels per day (bpd) of diesel, it also buys 107,000 bpd from outside Mexico, while private importers add a further 112,000 bpd of supply, according to government data.
Ahead of 2025, Pemex is only required by law to provide ULSD to about a fifth of the country’s municipalities, a detail the industry says underscores a lack of adequate availability. (Reporting by Sharay Angulo; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Peter Cooney)