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EPA tightens fine particulate pollution standards under the Clean Air Act

January 4, 2013

air pollutionOn December 14th the EPA finalized a rule updating the standards for fine particulates, including soot, setting the annual health standard to 12 micrograms per cubic meter, down from the current level of 15. 

EPA’s proposed rule issued in June, 2012 generated more than 230,000 public comments.

Here is EPA’s statement issued when the final rule was published:

In response to a court order, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized an update to its national air quality standards for harmful fine particle pollution (PM2.5), including soot, setting the annual health standard at 12 micrograms per cubic meter. Today's announcement has no effect on the existing daily standard for fine particles or the existing daily standard for coarse particles (PM10, which includes dust from farms and other sources), both of which remain unchanged.

A federal court ruling required EPA to update the standard based on best available science. The standard, which was proposed in June 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 today 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.

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.

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.

Implications

The Phylmar Group, a global environmental health and safety social responsibility consultancy based in Los Angeles, provides an analysis of the new rule by Jeffrey N. Hurwitz, attorney with the firm Morgan Lewis, written December 29, 2012 and posted at JDSupra Law News. It appears in Phylmar’s its latest newsletter. Excerpts follow here. The complete analysis is posted at

http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/epa-tightens-air-quality-standards-for-f-90551

For more information visit www.phylmar.com

Mr. Hurwitiz writes:

On December 14, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its rule tightening the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for fine particles emitted by a wide variety of sources, including power plants, industrial facilities, and gasoline and diesel engines. EPA is also making certain changes to its Prevention of Significant Deterioration permitting program with respect to the NAAQS revisions. The rule will become effective 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register, which is expected to occur early in 2013. The rule is one of several rules in recent years tightening the NAAQS for certain pollutants, resulting in additional compliance planning for states and potential clean air permitting complications for major new construction projects.

EPA anticipates making initial particulate matter (PM) attainment/nonattainment designations by December 2014, with these likely becoming effective in early 2015. Although EPA indicates that fewer than 10 counties nationwide will be out of compliance with the revised PM2.5 NAAQS by the end of the decade, it identifies approximately 66 counties as currently not meeting the standard, including counties in California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Implementation plans outlining how affected states will comply will be due in 2018, and compliance is required by 2020 (subject to a possible extension until 2025 depending on the severity of noncompliance). States not meeting the standard may need to include in their implementation plans additional measures requiring deeper particulate matter emission cuts. In addition, major construction projects in PMnonattainment areas will be subject to the stringent requirements of EPA's Nonattainment New Source Review program, including, potentially, emission offsets and stringent technology standards. Even in counties attaining the standard, applicants (unless grandfathered) will be required under the PSD program to demonstrate that proposed major projects do not cause or contribute to a violation of the revised fine particulate standard.

Questions remain regarding EPA's revisions. There will likely be further court challenges, and EPA intends to propose additional rules and guidance relating to state implementation of the revised PM standards and related air quality modeling. As with other recent NAAQS revisions, however, the revised PM2.5 standard may well result in more stringent emission controls, permitting challenges, and associated delays for major new sources and plant expansions. Companies planning such projects need to include consideration of the revised standards in their anticipated project timelines and air quality impacts analysis.