TODAY   |  March 30, 2013

Cleaner gas could mean higher prices

Filling up the gas tank can be costly, but the EPA's new proposal could make it even more expensive. However, the new standards will also make the air we breathe cleaner. NBC’s Stephanie Gosk reports.

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>> firing up debate this morning. the obama administration's push for cleaner fuel will mean higher prices at the pump, but just how much higher depends on who you talk to. bottom line, are the changes worth the cost? here's nbc's stephanie gosk.

>> reporter: at this rest stop in new jersey, the verdict is clear. cleaner air is good. high gas prices are bad.

>> ridiculous. i drive for a living so it's ridiculous for me.

>> reporter: but can drivers have one without the other? the epa advanced a clean air proposal on friday that would reduce sulfur emissions by two-thirds and impose new tail pipe emission standards for 2017 cars and later. the federal agency says that by 2030 the regulations would prevent as many as 2400 premature deaths and help 23,000 children avoid breathing issues per year, but the proposal would also raise gas prices by just one cent per gallon, says the epa.

>> the health benefits of the premature deaths and the respiratory illnesses avoided will amount to $23 billion of health benefits a year and if you think about it, paying a penny a gallon for $23 billion in health benefits is a pretty good deal.

>> reporter: critics put the increase at more like nine cents.

>> nine cents doesn't sound like a lot but you multiply it times all those billions of gallons being sold it is billions of dollars we're talking about.

>> reporter: reducing sulfur levels could be difficult and expensive for refineries.

>> the refineries will break down more often because of using this technology especially in the beginning. that's going to impact gasoline inventories and will drive prices higher.

>> reporter: california has already gone through the debate. the state has been rolling in stricter standards for years. since 2003 , smog levels have dropped 50%. california also has some of the most expensive gas in the country.

>> i don't mind paying a little more if it's better for the air here.

>> reporter: right now the average national price of gas is $3.64 down 28 cents from last year. but still high, say some drivers.

>> quite a hit in the pocketbook.

>> reporter: even without new emission standards gas under $2 a gallon is a distant memory. for "today" stephanie gosk, nbc news, sea caucus, new jersey.