Rejecting staff recommendations, EPA declines to tighten PM 2.5 standards. Keeps current level at 12 µ/m3.

May 28, 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on April 14, 2020 it will retain the current standard for fine particle (PM 2.5) pollution. According to an April 14th Reuters report EPA rejected a recommendation from staff scientists to tighten PM 2.5 regulations arguing the current standards are adequate to protect human health.

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The decision marks a win for industries that had lobbied against a tightening of the standards, but triggered a backlash among activists and lawmakers who said soot remains a public health hazard and pointed to research showing it has also elevated death rates during the coronavirus outbreak.

“We believe that the current standard is protective of public health … and does not need to be changed,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a conference call with reporters announcing the decision.

He said it followed a review of scientific research and consultations with the EPA’s independent science advisers, but acknowledged there are “still a lot of uncertainties” around fine particulate matter.

At issue is the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) regulation, which sets limits on the concentrations of different pollutants in the air – including soot from coal and gas-fired power plants and vehicle tailpipes.

The EPA is required to review the standards every five years, and has tended to tighten them regularly.  The current standard set in 2012 allows for 12 micrograms of fine particles per cubic meter of air. Parts of the country that exceed that standard are declared out of compliance, which sets in motion limits on new industrial development until air quality improves.

EPA staff had recommended that the standard drop to 8 micrograms per cubic meter, after research showed respiratory damage could occur at current standards. Harvard University research published in April shows that the coronavirus causes a higher death toll among patients in parts of the country with increased levels of fine particulate pollution.

The American Petroleum Institute, which represents U.S. oil and gas companies, praised the move and pointed out that particulate pollution had dropped in recent years. “Many industry groups across America – including ours – agree that EPA’s proposed rule is a smart balance that will further reduce emissions and help protect public health while meeting America’s energy needs,” said API Senior Vice President of Policy, Economics and Regulatory Affairs Frank Macchiarola.

“This administration is passing up an opportunity to make the air cleaner for millions of Americans – choosing instead to do nothing. That’s indefensible,” said former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who is now head of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

What this means to you
EPA announced will retain the current standard for fine particle (PM 2.5) pollution at 12 µ/m3 rejecting a staff recommendation to lower the standard to 8 µ/m3.

MIRATECH can help
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