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Bill for cleaner-burning heating oil stalls in Albany

A bill to require cleaner-burning heating oil appears stalled in the State Senate, caught between supporters who tout its environmental benefits and purported cost savings and opponents who worry it would raise the price of the fuel.

Similar legislation died last year.

The new bill, already passed by the Assembly, would require fuel dealers to sell only an "ultra-low sulphur" type of No. 2 heating oil, meeting the same federal clean-air standards as highway diesel fuel, a nearly identical product. The effective date, originally proposed as July 1, 2011, is being negotiated, but it could be as early as 2012.

A memo from the Senate's chief sponsor, Democrat Bill Perkins of Manhattan, said burning of oil releases sulfur dioxide, a known greenhouse gas, while sulfur particles can exacerbate or cause respiratory problems.

Heating oil dealers, who support the law, say it would simplify their operations to sell the same oil for homes and for farm and construction equipment, which already has to be ultra-low sulfur. They contend that any increase in fuel costs would be negligible or nonexistent and that low-sulfur fuel burns more efficiently and is less likely to clog equipment, which would offer savings to homeowners.

"Dollarwise, it's a win-win-win; there is no downside to this," chief Assembly sponsor Robert K. Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) said.

Kevin Rooney, chief executive of the Oil Heat Institute of Long Island, said super-high efficiency "condensing"-type oil burners must have ultra-low sulfur fuel to achieve their 93 percent or 94 percent peak efficiencies.

"Our industry cannot move to the next generation of fuels and equipment while we're using a high-sulfur fuel," he said.

At least half-dozen major environmental groups support the change. "This legislation provides a meaningful and practical alternative for the thousands of oil-heat customers across Long Island to lower fuel costs and protect air quality and public health at the same time," Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, wrote in an e-mail.

But some oil refiners and landlords downstate claim the cleaner fuel would be 8 cents a gallon more expensive.

"These potential price increases may impact providers of affordable housing in the winter months in an adverse way and may possibly cause some buildings to go without deliveries when they need them the most," said the Rent Stabilization Association of New York City, which represents 25,000 landlords and agents.

Manhattan-based Hess Corp., which operates or has interests in refineries, contends it "cannot, without major capital investments and long lead times," produce the supplies of ultra-low sulfur fuel the law would mandate.

The Senate has a thin Democratic majority - one vote. An opponent of the measure, Republican Sen. Tom Libous of Binghamton, is trying to get the bill to apply only downstate and to push the effective date to 2013.


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