WASHINGTON, March 28 (Reuters) - The Obama administration will propose on Friday long-awaited rules to slash smog-forming emissions from gasoline that have been linked to lung and heart ailments, health groups and a lawmaker briefed on the matter said on Thursday.
The so-called Tier 3 rules to be proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency will require refiners to reduce the sulfur content of gasoline to 10 parts per million from the current 30 ppm standard.
Oil industry groups, Republicans, and some conservative Democrats have opposed the rules saying they would make gasoline more expensive for consumers still struggling in the recovering economy.
Refinery groups say the rules could cost that industry $14 billion to $15 billion a year. In addition, the American Petroleum Institute, the main energy industry lobbying group, has said the rules could increase refinery operating costs by up to 9 cents per gallon.
But health groups say the rules will cut billions in doctors' bills. A study released by Navigant Consulting last year said the rules could cut healthcare costs for lung and heart diseases by $5 billion to $6 billion a year by 2020 and double that by 2030.
"This is the first big environmental initiative in the Obama administration's second term," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, who was briefed on Thursday. "It is the most effective tool available to reduce smog.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, had urged President Barack Obama to propose the rules back in 2010 and urged his administration to move quickly to finalize them.
"We've cleared a crucial step in the process, and I will continue to urge the administration to move quickly to finalize the rule this year," said Gillibrand, who also was briefed on the rules.
Republican lawmakers had tried to stop the rules. Ed Whitfield, the chair of the House Energy and Power subcommittee, introduced a bill last year to stop the EPA from issuing the Tier 3 measures.
The rules are supported by many automakers who want regulatory certainty and for federal rules to be harmonized with strict regulations in California. The Auto Alliance, a group of 12 manufacturers, has said cutting sulfur content in gasoline has side benefits including improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)