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Gas Stations Dropping Leaded Fuel Distributors Facing Deadline To Meet Federal Requirement

As local gas stations hurry to comply with federal environmental regulations, Inland Northwest drivers will soon have no choice but to get the lead out of their vehicles.

Chevron announced Tuesday it will phase out regular gasoline by the end of July in response to the Clean Air Act. The act mandates a phaseout of leaded gas by Jan. 1, 1996.

Conoco and Exxon are also eliminating local availability of leaded gas this month, said Joe Weinand, manager of Spokane Valley-based Valco Petroleum, which distributes fuel to local Conocos and independent stations.

Chevron’s 93 stations in Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon and North Idaho are among the last in the nation that sell leaded gasoline, which often is cheaper than unleaded fuel. Chevron’s 443 stations in the Puget Sound and Portland area stopped selling smog-inducing leaded fuel in May, and California outlawed it two years ago.

Don Hunsaker, Chevron’s price supply coordinator, offered a low-tech answer to why the country needs to comply with the Clean Air Act.

“Lead is bad. Asbestos is bad. There are bad things in life. We need to get rid of the bad things. We need to get rid of lead,” he said in a telephone interview from the Chevron headquarters near San Francisco.

The Inland Northwest is one of the last regions of the country to sell leaded gas due to the area’s reliance on agriculture. Farmers have traditionally used leaded gas for tractors, Hunsaker said. Leaded gas is also available in car-friendly Arizona, whose mild, arid climate preserves car bodies for decades.

Unleaded gas, which costs about 5 cents more per gallon than leaded, can be used in all cars and trucks, including pre-1975 models without catalytic converters, said officials at four separate gasoline refineries.

If drivers of older vehicles experience diminished performance or up-hill “pinging” when they convert to unleaded, they may want to use more expensive, higher octane or midgrade unleaded instead of regular unleaded.

Chevron has added a new 89-octane unleaded midgrade that controls engine knock and run-on in vehicles that previously used leaded fuel, Hunsaker said.

Tractors, lawn mowers and snow blowers can also use unleaded gas without harm to engines or exhaust systems, officials said.

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