16 November 2001

Rules to cut sulphur may

see red diesel price hiked

By Philip Clarke

Europe editor

RED diesel prices could rise by more than 10% under new legislation intended to reduce the sulphur content of fuel.

MEPs in Strasbourg will decide whether to back changes to fuel quality rules. New rules are intended to cut the sulphur content of road fuels. But a late amendment by the European parliaments environment committee seeks to put farm diesel on the same footing.

The NFU says this would add about 2.5p/litre, or over 10%, to the price of red diesel, due to increased refining costs. NFU technical services chairman, Marcus Themans, said: "This means farmers will be saddled with paying a higher price for operating their machinery at a time when they can least afford it."

Since the new rule would only apply for red diesel and not heating oil, farmers would either have to invest in separate storage tanks, or use the more expensive low sulphur fuel for heating.

MEP Heidi Anneli Hautala is adamant that the new 10mg/kg sulphur limit should apply for off-road fuels. Her amendment to the commissions proposals says this will lead to "significant reductions in emissions of conventional air pollutants when used in existing vehicles".

But this is disputed by the UK Petroleum Industry Association. "We believe the proposal is premature and not in the best interest of the UK from either an environmental or economic standpoint," said director general, Malcolm Webb.

"The current fleet of off-road equipment has been designed to operate on higher viscosity diesel fuels. A change to on-road type quality is likely to cause operational problems."

The legislation and amendments will be voted on by the European Parliament on Nov 29. The proposals will then go to environment ministers on Dec 12. If approved, the new limits will come into force from 2005 for road diesel and 2008 for off-road.

The UK government is understood to oppose the harmonisation measures until a full study into the scientific justification is complete. &#42