Pro News

EPA proposes tighter rule to cut soot pollution

BY: ALEX GUILLÉN | 01/06/2023 10:01 AM EST

EPA on Friday proposed strengthening a key national air quality standard for soot, a move that would overturn a Trump-era decision that left one of the nation’s most important pollution regulations unchanged and which the agency predicted would yield tens of billions of dollars per year in public health benefits.

Under the proposal released by Administrator Michael Regan, EPA is considering lowering the annual average exposure limit from 12 micrograms per cubic meter to between 9 and 10 micrograms. The move is expected to receive significant pushback from industry, even though it fell short of environmentalists’ hopes that EPA would go farther and propose a new standard of 8 micrograms.

President DonaldTrump’s EPA declined to change the standard from levels for fine particulate matter — particles smaller than 2.5 microns — that were set in 2012 at 12 micrograms on an annual average or 35 micrograms over a single day.

Regan ordered a reconsideration of that finding. EPA’s internal scientists and the agency’s panel of outside advisers last year agreed that the annual average limits should be strengthened, potentially as far as 8 micrograms. For the 24-hour standard, EPA staff recommended no change while a majority of its scientists on its independent advisory body, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, called for strengthening it to as low as 25 micrograms.

Particulates are emitted directly or form indirectly through chemical reactions from other pollutants that come from power plants and other industrial sources, motor vehicle tailpipes and wood-burning stoves, as well as from natural sources such as wildfires. Exposure to fine particles, known as PM2.5 because of their tiny size, leads to premature death and increases of heart attacks, asthma and other ailments.

The proposal (Reg. 2060-AV52) floats a range of 9 to 10 micrograms for the new annual average, though EPA said it will take comment on lowering the standard as low as 8 micrograms or as high as 11 micrograms.

“This proposed action reflects EPA’s reconsideration of the latest available evidence and technical information that indicates that the 2012 standards are no longer sufficient to protect public health,” Regan told reporters on a Thursday conference call.

Despite the call from a majority of CASAC members to strengthen the 24-hour standard, EPA did not propose any change to that limit, though the agency said it will take public comment on potentially lowering it as far as CASAC’s recommendation of 25 micrograms. Also untouched is a separate 24-hour standard for larger or “coarse” particulates, known as PM10, as well as secondary standards for the non-ecological effects of all forms of particulate matter.

EPA is barred by law from considering costs when setting National Ambient Air Quality Standards such as this since those decisions are supposed to be made based on health science. However, the agency said its regulatory impact analysis estimated annual compliance costs in 2032 of $95 million for 10 micrograms or $390 million for 9 micrograms.

Those costs would be significantly offset by public health benefits, EPA said. The agency estimated setting the standard at 10 micrograms would have net benefits as high as $17 billion in 2032. At 9 micrograms, those benefits increase to $43 billion in 2032, a figure that includes an estimates 4,200 avoided premature annual deaths.

Environmentalists said the proposal is a step in the right direction, but urged EPA to go even further.

“Today’s proposal does not fully reflect the serious danger of this pollutant, the scientific record, or the positive impact stronger standards would have on communities across the country,” said Holly Bender, Sierra Club’s senior director for energy campaigns, in a statement. “Anything short of the most protective standards gives a pass to the biggest polluters.”

The proposal’s range would save thousands of lives annually, Vijay Limaye, senior climate and health scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement, “but this still leaves too many people dying. The country deserves a safer standard.”

Industry groups are opposed to further strengthening of the standard that would increase their regulatory burdens and potentially restrict some activities in areas with high exposures.

The current standards are effective already, said Will Hupman, the American Petroleum Institute’s vice president of downstream policy.

“There is no compelling scientific evidence or requirement under the Clean Air Act to support more stringent PM standards that would likely place new regulatory and cost burdens on state and local governments, businesses, and the public,” he said in a statement.

Regan touted expanded monitoring in low-income areas and communities of color under the proposal, and the rule was praised by Doris Browne, former president of the National Medical Association, which represents Black physicians and patients.

“Today’s proposal marks the start of changes that will have lasting impact in communities all over, but especially those communities of color, and low-income communities that experienced an increase in particulate matter pollution,” she told reporters on EPA’s press briefing on Thursday.

But other environmental justice advocates, including from the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition and the Hispanic Federation, said the proposal falls short.

“This rule falls short of taking steps to mitigate the decades of neglect and harm done to the health of our communities and to the health of Latino children in particular,” said Laura Esquivel, the Hispanic Federation’s vice president for federal policy and advocacy, in a statement.

The rule will be open for public comment for 60 days once published in the Federal Register.

The White House belatedly released its fall regulatory agenda on Wednesday that said this rule will be finalized by August. Those target dates frequently slip, though Regan told reporters that “the amazing staff here at EPA will continue to work nights and weekends to fulfill the obligations of protecting public health.”

The agenda also said EPA this spring will propose an update for another major air quality standard, for ground-level ozone. It is unclear whether that deadline will be met, or whether EPA will actually propose strengthening that standard after its internal experts recommended keeping the current standard without revision.

Copy link
Powered by Social Snap