(New throughout, adds detail on EPA rules, response from refiners, health group)
By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON, March 3 (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Monday announced new fuel and automobile rules to cut soot, smog and toxic emissions, which it says will help reduce asthma and heart attacks.
The Tier 3 rules unveiled by the Environmental Protection Agency have been under development since President Barack Obama issued a memorandum instructing the agency to develop them in 2010. The rules will cut gasoline sulfur levels by more than 60 percent and should also reduce tailpipe and evaporative emissions from cars, light trucks, medium-duty passenger vehicles and some heavy-duty vehicles.
Health advocates praised the move, while a petroleum refiners' group called the compliance schedule "unrealistic" and warned of potential supply disruptions.
The rules will be phased in under schedules that vary by vehicle class, generally starting between model years 2017 and 2025, the EPA said. Once fully in place, the standards will help avoid up to 2,000 premature deaths per year and 50,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children, the agency estimated, while adding only an average of 1 cent per gallon to the cost of gasoline.
"These standards are a win for public health, a win for our environment, and a win for our pocketbooks," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
The standards seek to ratchet down the sulfur content of gasoline from the 30 current parts per million to 10 parts per million (ppm). This would boost efficiency for new emission control technologies that automakers will use to help achieve the administration's wider clean car standards, the agency said.
Every gasoline-powered vehicle on the road built prior to the Tier 3 standards will run cleaner, the EPA said, cutting smog-forming nitrous oxide emissions by 260,000 tons in 2018.
"By reducing these pollutants and making our air healthier, we will bring relief to those suffering from asthma, other lung diseases and cardiovascular disease, and to the nation as a whole," said Dr. Albert Rizzo, past-chair of the American Lung Association.
Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said his group had met with the EPA on "numerous occasions" to discuss their concerns with the implementation schedule. But he said "EPA chose to ignore our concerns by setting an unrealistic compliance date of Jan. 1, 2017," a schedule that he said could cause supply disruptions.
The EPA said it took into account the feedback of stakeholders, including refiners and automakers. It noted that the sulfur rules include a program to help refiners and importers meet the new standard, and gives smaller refiners more time to comply. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Ros Krasny, Eric Beech and David Gregorio)