EPA agrees to set particulate limit by mid-December
Written byJEREMY JACOBS, Greenwire
U.S. EPA has agreed to finalize new limits on particle air pollution that comes from power plants, boilers and car tailpipes by the end of the year.
The agency formally signed a legal agreement Friday to finish the new particulate matter, or PM, limits by Dec. 14.
EPA reached a tentative agreement for the mid-December deadline with environmentalists and several states in June. The groups, including the American Lung Association, challenged EPA's delay in setting the new standards for soot, and a federal court judge ruled this summer that EPA's proposed schedule to issue the standards in August 2013 was too slow to address the public health threat posed by the small particles (Greenwire, June 6).
In compliance with that ruling, EPA in mid-June proposed tightening the fine particle standard from 15 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over a year to between 12 and 13 micrograms.
The agency argued that most of the country would be able to meet the new standard by the 2020 deadline as long as other EPA rules for power plants, boilers and diesel engines -- some of which are currently being challenged in court -- are implemented.
EPA is currently taking public comment on the proposal and will consider a standard as low as 11 micrograms (Greenwire, June 15).
The particulate matter standard has long been a subject of controversy because of the many health effects associated with the substance and the wide range of sources affected by the limits.
EPA set a somewhat stricter standard in 2006, but a federal court threw it out three years later because it did not do enough to protect public health. The agency then accepted an October 2011 deadline for a new standard but failed to meet it, leading to the most recent lawsuit.
Industry and some Republicans on Capitol Hill have raised concerns about the mid-December deadline for the new proposal.
Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, wrote to EPA in July, saying the December deadline would force EPA to rush the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter without a full vetting of the scientific data available.
"This administration came into office pledging full transparency, open government and to 'restore science to its rightful place,'" Inhofe said. "EPA's proposed PM settlement schedule disregards these objectives" (Greenwire, July 26).
Public health advocates, however, have urged the agency to move forward swiftly. In a letter Friday, a large coalition including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Clean Air Watch said EPA should finish the standard by Dec. 14 and encouraged the agency to adopt an 11-microgram limit.
"Strengthening the particulate matter health standards as demanded by science will prevent thousands of premature deaths, heart attacks, and visits to the hospital and emergency room each year," the groups wrote. "Particulate matter is also the main cause of reduced visibility and haze which casts a pall over the scenic vistas in our revered National Parks and iconic natural areas that we must protect today and as vital legacies for future generations."