USA tightens rules against air pollution – 02/07/2024 – Environment

USA tightens rules against air pollution – 02/07/2024 – Environment

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday tightened limits on industrial fine particles, one of the most common and lethal forms of air pollution, for the first time in a decade.

Business groups immediately objected. They say the new regulations could increase costs and hurt jobs in American manufacturing. Public health organizations argue that anti-pollution rules can save lives and strengthen the economy by reducing hospitalizations and lost workdays.

Fine particles, such as soot, can originate from factories, power plants and other industrial facilities. They can penetrate the lungs and bloodstream and are linked to serious health effects such as asthma and heart and lung disease. Long-term exposure has been linked to premature deaths.

The new rule reduces the annual standard for fine particles to 9 micrograms per cubic meter of air — the current standard is 12 micrograms.

Over the next two years, the EPA will use air samples to identify areas that do not meet the new standard. States will then gain 18 months to develop compliance plans for these areas. By 2032, those who exceed the new standard could face penalties.

“Soot pollution is one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan told reporters Tuesday. “This is truly a game-changer for the health and well-being of communities across our country.”

Regan estimated the rule could prevent 4,500 premature deaths each year and 290,000 work days lost to illness. The EPA said the rule will also provide net health gains of up to $46 billion in the first year the standards are fully implemented.

The small particles are known as PM 2.5 because they are 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller. In comparison, an average human hair is about 70 microns in diameter.

Harold Wimmer, president of the American Lung Association, called the rule “a step forward.” But he criticized the Biden administration for not going further, noting that scientists and health experts had asked the EPA to lower the standard for the average annual amount to 8 micrograms instead of 9.

New pollution limits could cause election year complications for President Joe Biden.

Business groups, which are expected to legally challenge the rule, argue that reducing pollution hurts the manufacturing industry. That includes the roads and bridges funded by the 2021 infrastructure law, legislation Biden frequently promotes.

They also said the rule could make it harder to manufacture electric vehicle batteries, wind turbines and other products that are key to the president’s climate agenda. Biden also made the resurgence of American manufacturing part of his campaign.

At least two Democratic governors, Andy Beshear of Kentucky and Laura Kelly of Kansas, wrote to Biden expressing concern about the economic impact of the rule.

Mike Ireland, president of the Portland Cement Association, which represents U.S. cement manufacturers, said the rule “would lead to fewer operating hours at plants, which would mean layoffs, as well as less American cement and concrete at a time when the country needs more.”

Marty Durbin, senior vice president of policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, predicted a “gridlock” in manufacturing and noted that wildfires and road dust, which are not considered in the rule, make up the bulk of fine particle emissions. “This administration is creating obstacles to achieving its infrastructure and climate goals,” he said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated that under the stricter regulation, 569 counties would be out of compliance.

EPA officials said that by their count, only 59 counties would exceed the new standard. And most would be expected to fall within the acceptable range within a few years, they said, because other proposed regulations governing exhaust emissions from automobiles and power plants would also reduce fine particles.

“No doubt there will be a huge outcry from the industry,” said Doris Browne, former president of the National Medical Association, the largest U.S. organization representing black doctors.

The new restrictions especially help poor and minority communities, which are disproportionately located near industrial facilities, she said.

“The new standard of 9 [microgramas por metro cúbico de ar] it will save lives,” Browne said. “That’s the most important thing.”

The law requires the EPA to look at the latest scientific findings and evaluate updating the PM 2.5 standard every five years, although it has not been strengthened since 2012 during the Obama administration.

The Trump administration conducted a review.

In a 457-page preliminary scientific assessment of the risks associated with maintaining or strengthening the fine particle pollution rule, career EPA scientists said about 45,000 annual deaths were related to PM 2.5.

The scientists wrote that if the rule were tightened to 9 micrograms per cubic meter, annual deaths would decrease by about 27%, or 12,150 people per year.

Following the publication of that report, several industries, including oil and coal companies, automobile and chemical manufacturers, asked the Trump administration to ignore the findings, and it refused to make any changes.

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