Monday, June 18, 2012

EPA Proposes New, More Strict PM2.5 Standards

Jun 15: U.S. EPA announced that in response to a court order, it is proposing updates to its national air quality standards for harmful fine particle pollution, including soot (PM2.5). The microscopic particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and have 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 its proposal, which meets that requirement, builds on smart steps already taken by the Agency to slash dangerous pollution in communities across the country. EPA said, "Thanks to these steps, 99 percent of U.S. counties are projected to meet the proposed standard without any additional action."

    EPA's said its proposal would strengthen the annual health standard for harmful fine particle pollution (PM2.5) to a level within a range of 13 micrograms per cubic meter to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The current annual standard is 15 micrograms per cubic meter [See WIMS 9/21/06]. The proposed changes, which are consistent with the advice from the Agency's independent science advisors, are 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. By proposing a range, the agency will collect input from the public as well as a number of stakeholders, including industry and public health groups, to help determine the most appropriate final standard to protect public health. It is important to note that the proposal has zero effect on the existing daily standard for fine particles or the existing daily standard for coarse particles (PM10), both of which would remain unchanged.
   The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review its standards for particle pollution 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 ordered EPA to sign the proposed particle pollution standards by June 14, 2012, because the agency did not meet its five-year legal deadline for reviewing the standards. EPA indicated it will accept public comments for 63 days after the proposed standards are published in the Federal Register. The Agency will hold two public hearings; one in Sacramento, CA and one in Philadelphia, PA. Details on the hearings will be announced shortly. EPA will issue the final standards by December 14, 2012.
    EPA said that because reductions in fine particle pollution have direct health benefits including decreased mortality rates, fewer incidents of heart attacks, strokes, and childhood asthma, these standards have major economic benefits with comparatively low costs. Depending on the final level of the standard, estimated benefits will range from $88 million a year, with estimated costs of implementation as low as $2.9 million, to $5.9 billion in annual benefits with a cost of $69 million -- a return ranging from $30 to $86 for every dollar invested in pollution control. EPA indicated that while it cannot consider costs in selecting a standard under the Clean Air Act, those costs are estimated as part of the analysis undertaken for all significant regulations, as required by Executive Order 13563 issued by President Obama in January 2011.
    Last week, House Energy and Commerce (E&C) leaders including Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) wrote to EPA urging the Agency to include retention of its current PM2.5 standards. They issued a statement on the proposal saying, "We are disappointed that EPA did not heed our request to include retention of the current annual standard as an alternative in its proposal. Any change to these regulatory standards could result in significant adverse economic consequences and job losses. Given the weak state of our economy, it is imperative the administration allow for a full and thorough review of all the alternatives, including retention of the current standards. Particulate matter standards should be based on a full scientific and economic review, and proper consideration of reasonable alternatives. Before ramming through new standards that could threaten jobs and our economy, we need to be sure of the science and the costs. Overly strict standards could force local economies into non-attainment, stifle economic growth, and lead to further job losses."
    Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, released a statement saying, "The EPA's proposed rule on deadly toxic soot is an important step forward in protecting our families and children. Continued exposure to this very dangerous form of air pollution leads to asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, and even premature death. When the rule to reduce soot pollution is finalized, there will be far fewer of these harmful health impacts, and it will have substantial health benefits in California and communities across the nation."
    The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) President and CEO Jay Timmons issued a statement saying, "The scope and damaging impact the EPA's new standard will have on manufacturers across the country, both large and small, is troubling. Essentially this standard will result in strict regulations on any kind of existing facility, while restricting new permit requirements for the development of new facilities. This standard will also place certain counties in a 'penalty box' and make them less attractive to new business. Simply put, new facilities won't be built unless others are shut down to meet the EPA's standard. The end result will have a devastating impact on our economy and job creation when we already face 8.2 percent unemployment."
    Environmental organizations applauded the action. Albert Rizzo, MD, Chair of the Board of the American Lung Association said, "Particle pollution kills -- the science is clear, and overwhelming evidence shows that particle pollution at levels currently labeled as officially 'safe' causes heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks. The Clean Air Act gives the American public the truth about pollution that is threatening their lives and health -- just as they would expect the truth from their doctor." Paul Cort, the Earthjustice attorney who represented the Lung Association and NPCA in legal proceedings said, "This proposal is long overdue. The fact that the EPA has been put back on track by the courts is an important first step in this process, but now the agency needs to set strong final standards to protect people from this deadly pollution. The law requires it, and the millions of Americans who live in areas made filthy by particle pollution desperately need it."

    Access the a release from EPA with links to a map showing counties in attainment in 2020 and more information including the proposed rule, fact sheets and support documents (click here). Access a release from E&C Republican leaders (click here). Access the statement from Sen. Boxer (click here). Access a release from NAM (click here). Access a release from environmental organizations (click here). [#Air]
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