The Environmental Protection Agency strengthened the annual air quality
standard for fine particulate matter to 12 micrograms per cubic meter Dec. 14,
which eventually could lead to additional pollution control requirements on
industry in areas that cannot meet the standard.
EPA expects just seven counties in California will not meet the standard by
the 2020 attainment date because other federal measures, including air toxics
standards for power plants and vehicle emissions standards, will continue to
reduce particle emissions nationwide.
Cutting particulate pollution to 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air
(µg/m3), down from the current standard of 15 µg/m3, will
cost industry as much as $350 million a year, EPA said, while projected annual
health benefits are as much as $9.1 billion. Exposure to particulates, even over
short periods, can cause premature death, heart attacks, and asthma attacks, the
“On days like today I'm reminded of the incredible importance of the work of
this agency,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told reporters during a telephone
news conference Dec. 14.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups called the final rule burdensome.
“More nonattainment areas translate into a heavier administrative burden on
states and cities, as well as devastating effects on local economies,” Bill
Kovacs, the Chamber's senior vice president for environment, technology, and
regulatory affairs, said in a statement Dec. 14. “A nonattainment designation is
tantamount to a cap on new business development.”
Fine particles are emitted from sources such as vehicles, smokestacks, and
fires. To get a better idea of what air quality is like near heavily traveled
roads, the final rule also will require moving 52 air monitors near roadways in
highly populated areas.
Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Environment and
Public Works Committee, said in a statement Dec. 14 that he expects the
particulate matter final rule to be “the first in an onslaught of post-election
rulemakings that will place considerable burdens on our struggling economy and
eventually push us over the 'regulatory cliff.' ”
The agency strengthened the annual, health-based national ambient air quality
standard for fine particles, but it did not change the other particulate matter
EPA retained the existing daily standard of 35 µg/m3 for fine
particles and the existing daily standard for coarse particulate matter of 150
Fine particles are 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller, and coarse
particles are larger than 2.5 micrometers but smaller than 10 micrometers.
The House passed legislation in December 2011 that would restrict EPA's
ability to regulate coarse particulate matter in rural areas, which House
Republicans termed “farm dust” (237 DER A-24, 12/9/11).
“We can finally put this issue to rest,” Chandler Goule, vice president of
government relations for the National Farmers Union, said in a statement Dec.
14. “There has been a lot of misinformation circulating about supposed
regulatory overreach so this final rule will hopefully put to rest any remaining
anxiety regarding 'farm dust' regulation by EPA.”
In addition, EPA retained the existing secondary air quality standards, which
are meant to protect the environment: an annual standard of 15 µg/m3
for fine particles, a daily standard of 35 µg/m3 for fine particles,
and a daily standard of 150 µg/m3 for coarse particles.
EPA issued a proposed rule June 14 that would have set a separate secondary
daily standard for fine particles of 28 to 30 deciviews, but the agency did not
finalize that provision. It said Dec. 14 that public comments made clear that
the existing standards are sufficient for visibility protection.
EPA expects other federal regulations will help reduce particulate matter
emissions over the coming years, making it easier for states to attain the
During the telephone news conference, Jackson listed a dozen rules the agency
has promulgated in recent years that will reduce particle emissions, including
mercury and air toxics standards for power plants, vehicle and fuel standards,
and regional haze regulations.
However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in
August vacated one of the most significant regulations, the Cross-State Air
Pollution Rule. It would have required power plants in 28 states to reduce
emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide to help downwind states meet air
quality standards for fine particulate matter and ozone. EPA is appealing the
decision (EME Homer City Generation LP v. EPA, D.C. Cir., No. 11-1302,
8/21/12; 162 DER A-2, 8/22/12).
The cross-state rule's predecessor program, the Clean Air Interstate Rule,
remains in place to reduce emissions until EPA promulgates a replacement
Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air
Agencies, called on EPA Dec. 14 to issue additional measures to reduce particle
pollution, including a revised rule addressing pollution that crosses state
lines, air toxics standards for boilers, and Tier 3 vehicle and gasoline
EPA will determine whether an area can meet the revised standard based on air
quality monitored data from 2011 to 2013.
States will recommend attainment statuses in December 2013, and EPA will make
the final designations in December 2014.
States will have to submit their implementation plans for reducing pollution
to EPA by 2018, and states will be required to meet the standards by 2020.
Areas that cannot meet the standards will have to take additional steps to
reduce pollution. Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of
Manufacturers, said in a statement Dec. 14 the new particle standard “will crush
manufacturers' plans for growth by restricting counties' ability to issue
permits for new facilities, which makes them less attractive for new business.
Essentially, existing facilities will have to be shuttered for new facilities to
be built in these areas. This is not a conducive way to create jobs.”
EPA studied air quality data from 2009 to 2011 and determined that 66
counties would violate the revised annual fine particle standard.
However, Gina McCarthy, EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation,
told reporters during the telephone news conference that she expects fewer than
66 counties actually will be designated as nonattainment areas because particle
emissions will continue to fall under data from 2011 to 2013.
Emissions will fall even further over the next several years, EPA said, which
is why it expects just the seven counties in California would still be in
nonattainment by 2020.
EPA reviewed the particulate matter standards most recently in 2006. The
Clean Air Act requires the agency to review and consider revising air quality
standards every five years.
During the 2006 review, EPA declined to strengthen the standards, which were
set originally in 1997. The D.C. Circuit in 2009 remanded the annual fine
particle standard to EPA because the agency “failed to explain adequately” why
the annual standard was sufficient to protect public health (American Farm
Bureau Federation v. EPA, D.C. Cir., No. 06-1410, order issued
The Dec. 14 final rule addresses that remand, and it also resolves litigation
brought by the American Lung Association, the National Parks Conservation
Association, and 11 states after EPA missed an October 2011 statutory deadline
to revise the standards (American Lung Ass'n v. EPA, D.D.C., No. 12-243,
consent decree signed 9/4/12).
The same settlement agreement ordered EPA to sign the proposed
rule June 14. The agency proposed lowering the annual standard for fine
particulate matter to between 12 and 13 µg/m3, and it sought comments
on a standard as low as 11 µg/m3 (77 Fed. Reg. 38,890; 116 DER A-19,
“We know clearly that particle pollution is harmful at levels well below
those previously deemed to be safe,” Norman Edelman, chief medical officer for
the American Lung Association, said in a statement Dec. 14. “Particle pollution
causes premature deaths and illness, threatening the millions of Americans who
breathe high levels of it. By setting a more protective standard, the EPA is
stating that we as a nation must protect the health of the public by cleaning up
even more of this lethal pollutant.”
EPA released the final rule to the public Dec. 14, and it is set to be
published in an upcoming issue of the Federal Register.
By Jessica Coomes
The final rule is available at http://www.epa.gov/pm/2012/finalrule.pdf.
More information from EPA about the particulate matter standards is available
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