Friday, December 14, 2012

EPA Finalizes New PM2.5 Standard At 12 µg/m3

Dec 14: In response to a court order, the U.S. EPA finalized an update to its national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for harmful fine particle pollution (PM2.5), including soot, setting the annual health standard at 12 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3). By 2020, ninety-nine percent (99%) of U.S. counties are projected to meet revised health standard without any additional actions. EPA's original proposal suggested a level within the range of 12 to 13 μg/m3. The current annual standard, 15 μg/m3, has been in place since 1997. The announcement has no effect on the existing daily standard for fine particles (35 μg/m3) or the existing daily standard for coarse particles (PM10), which includes dust from farms and other sources), both of which remain unchanged.

    EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, "These standards are fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act. We will save lives and reduce the burden of illness in our communities, and families across the country will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air."

    A release from EPA indicates that fine particle pollution can penetrate deep into the lungs and has been linked to a wide range of serious health effects, including premature death, heart attacks, and strokes, as well as acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma among children. A Federal court ruling required EPA to update the standard based on best available science. EPA said today's announcement, "meets that requirement, builds on smart steps already taken by EPA to slash dangerous pollution in communities across the country. Thanks to these steps, 99 percent of U.S. counties are projected to meet the standard without any additional action."

    EPA indicated that it is expected that fewer than 10 counties, out of the more than 3,000 counties in the United States, will need to consider any local actions to reduce fine particle pollution in order to meet the new standard by 2020, as required by the Clean Air Act. The rest can rely on air quality improvements from Federal rules already on the books to meet this new standard. A map released by EPA indicates that "
7 counties are projected not to meet 12.0 μg/m3 in 2020" -- all located in southern California.

    The standard, which was proposed in June [See WIMS 6/18/12] and is consistent with the advice from the agency's independent science advisors, is based on an extensive body of scientific evidence that includes thousands of studies – including many large studies which show negative health impacts at lower levels than previously understood. It also follows extensive consultation with stakeholders, including the public, health organizations, and industry, and after considering more than 230,000 public comments.

    By 2030, it is expected that all standards that cut PM2.5 from diesel vehicles and equipment alone will prevent up to 40,000 premature deaths, 32,000 hospital admissions and 4.7 million days of work lost due to illness. Because reductions in fine particle pollution have direct health benefits including decreased mortality rates, fewer incidents of heart attacks, strokes, and childhood asthma, the PM2.5 standards announced have major economic benefits with comparatively low costs. EPA estimates health benefits of the revised standard to range from $4 billion to over $9 billion per year, with estimated costs of implementation ranging from $53 million to $350 million. While EPA cannot consider costs in selecting a standard under the Clean Air Act, those costs are estimated as part of the careful analysis undertaken for all significant regulations, as required by Executive Order 13563 issued by President Obama in January 2011.

    The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review its air quality standards every five years to determine whether the standards should be revised. The law requires the agency to ensure the standards are "requisite to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety" and "requisite to protect the public welfare." A Federal court required EPA to issue final standard by December 14, because the agency did not meet its five-year legal deadline for reviewing the standards. 
    Yesterday, the American Petroleum Institute (API) indicated [See WIMS 12/13/12], "We support keeping the standards where they are, not only because there is no compelling evidence for changing them, but because our current emission control programs implementing the existing standards are working and continue to reduce pollution levels. . . The collective impacts of all of these and other potential new regulations at a time when 12 million Americans are still unemployed would be a blow to our economy as it struggles to recover and put Americans back to work. These rules could significantly slow business development and job creation. It makes no sense to risk this when the necessity of many of these regulations is ambiguous at best."
    Norman Edelman, MD, Chief Medical Officer for the American Lung Association (ALA) said, "We know clearly that particle pollution is harmful at levels well below those previously deemed to be safe. Particle pollution causes premature deaths and illness, threatening the millions of Americans who breathe high levels of it. By setting a more protective standard, the EPA is stating that we as a nation must protect the health of the public by cleaning up even more of this lethal pollutant. Reducing particle pollution will prevent heart attacks and asthma attacks, and will keep children out of the emergency room and hospitals. It will save lives."
    Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) praised EPA for the move and President Fred Krupp said, "EPA's new health standards to protect Americans from soot pollution are a perfect holiday gift. This is a big step towards cleaner, healthier air for all of us. Elena Craft, Health Scientist for EDF said, "Almost half of all Americans -- our mothers, our brothers, our uncles, our kids -- are considered to be especially vulnerable to the harmful impacts of soot. EPA's new standards will help protect them, and all of us. Now Americans must work together to put in place the smart solutions that will reduce soot levels in our air." 
    The American Lung Association and the National Parks Conservation Association represented by Earthjustice took the legal steps against the EPA to get the review completed as required by the Clean Air Act. The decision announced today completed that review. The decision also addressed the Lung Association's legal victory against EPA's decision in 2008 to retain the annual standard set in 1997, a lawsuit joined by the Environmental Defense Fund and also represented by Earthjustice.
    Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the outgoing Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, commented on the EPA standard saying, "And so it begins -- EPA's PM NAAQS, finalized today, is the first in an onslaught of post-election rulemakings that will place considerable burdens on our struggling economy and eventually push us over the 'regulatory cliff.'. . . Going forward as a senior member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, I will continue aggressive oversight of the Obama-EPA's barrage of forthcoming rules, and do everything in my power to prevent President Obama from pushing us over the regulatory cliff." Sen. Inhofe also provided a link to a Senate Republican Report: A Look Ahead to EPA Regulations for 2013: Numerous Obama EPA Rules Placed On Hold until after the Election Spell Doom for Jobs and Economic Growth.

    Access a release from EPA (click here). Access more information (click here). Access a video from the EPA Administrator (click here). Access the map released by EPA (click here). Access a release from API and link to the full text of the briefing (click here). Access a release from ALA (click here). Access a release from EDF (click here). Access the release from Sen. Inhofe (click here). [#Air]
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