Air Pollution:

New Approach Needed to Resolve Safety Issue for Vapor Recovery Systems

RCED-91-171: Published: Jun 28, 1991. Publicly Released: Aug 7, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO determined Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) actions to resolve safety issues associated with vehicle-based (onboard) vapor recovery systems.

GAO found that: (1) about 11 percent of the 5.1 million metric tons of hydrocarbon emissions attributable to motor vehicles annually come from gasoline vapors that escape into the atmosphere when vehicles are refuelled; (2) EPA believes that onboard systems, which capture refuelling vapors in the vehicle's fuel system, will be safe and pose no additional risk to motorists, and envisions gasoline-station-based, or stage II, technology as an interim step until onboard systems can be phased in; (3) NHTSA believes that stage II technology is a better alternative and maintains that onboard systems could compromise motor vehicle safety by increasing the risk of fuel spillage and fires; (4) lack of a coordinated approach between EPA and NHTSA has delayed resolution of the onboard safety issue; (5) as of June 1991, or 5 months prior to a mandated deadline, the two agencies were far from agreeing on NHTSA concerns about the safety of onboard systems; (6) NHTSA believes it cannot fully assess or quantify the safety risk of onboard systems until it has performance data from consumer experiences with vehicles with such systems, but automobile manufacturers said they needed an onboard regulation to set design criteria and test procedures to complete onboard development efforts; (7) the alternative fuels the government will promote over the next several years could pose safety problems similar to those generated by onboard systems; and (8) EPA and NHTSA need to develop an approach that identifies each agency's roles and responsibilities, the test data and analysis needed to address safety concerns, and the time frames for completing this analysis.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA determined that onboard systems pose a safety risk, and decided they should not be required.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should go forward with the onboard regulation by November 1991, as required by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, unless EPA determines that onboard systems pose an unreasonable risk to public safety.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA determined that onboard systems pose a safety risk, and decided that they should not be required.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, and the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, NHTSA, to develop a joint approach, or action plan, to perform a safety evaluation of manufacturers' onboard systems to identify and correct any safety defects or flaws well in advance of the 1996 model year so that an orderly phase-in occurs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA has taken no action. EPA determined that onboard systems pose a safety risk and decided that they should not be required.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, and the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, NHTSA, to develop a joint approach, or action plan, to perform a safety evaluation of manufacturers' onboard systems to identify and correct any safety defects or flaws well in advance of the 1996 model year so that an orderly phase-in occurs.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA determined that onboard systems pose a safety risk, and decided they should not be required.

    Recommendation: EPA and NHTSA should work with the automobile industry during the 4 years between promulgation of the regulation and the phase-in of onboard systems called for by model year 1996. At a minimum, this plan should identify the roles and responsibilities of each agency, the safety tests and analysis to be performed, what the analysis will accomplish, and the time frames for performing the analysis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA has taken no action. EPA determined that onboard systems pose a safety risk and decided they should not be required.

    Recommendation: EPA and NHTSA should work with the automobile industry during the 4 years between promulgation of the regulation and the phase-in of onboard systems called for by model year 1996. At a minimum, this plan should identify the roles and responsibilities of each agency, the safety tests and analysis to be performed, what the analysis will accomplish, and the time frames for performing the analysis.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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