EPA Proposes Implementation Rule for Fine Particulate Matter Standards

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By Patrick Ambrosio

March 12 — The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a proposed rule outlining how states will implement the current national ambient air quality standards for fine particulate matter.

The proposed implementation rule (RIN 2060-AQ48), signed by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy March 10, would establish attainment planning requirements that state air agencies must meet for moderate and serious nonattainment areas.

The proposed rule also outlines requirements for state new source review permitting in fine particulate matter nonattainment areas and the process for reclassifying moderate nonattainment areas to serious nonattainment areas if an area fails to demonstrate attainment with the particulate matter standards by the applicable deadline.

The EPA in 2012 revised the annual, health-based standard for fine particulate matter from 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 12 µg/m3. At that time, the agency also decided to retain the existing daily primary standard for fine particulates of 35 µg/m3 and the daily standard for coarse particles of 150 µg/m3 for coarse particles.

The revised annual fine particulate standard is projected by the EPA to result in as much as $9.1 billion in annual health benefits from reduced exposure to fine particulates, a pollutant linked to premature death, heart attacks and asthma attacks.

14 Nonattainment Areas Designated 

The EPA in December designated 14 areas in six states, including the San Joaquin Valley in California, as being in nonattainment of the 2012 fine particulate matter standards. All of those areas were initially designated as moderate nonattainment areas, effective in April.

Under the proposed implementation rule, the affected states will have until October 2016 to submit state implementation plans on how they intend to attain the standards. The EPA would then have until April 2018 to use discretionary authority to reclassify any areas that the agency determines won't be able to come into compliance with the standards by December 2021.

The proposed implementation rule also includes options to revoke the 1997 primary annual standard of 15 µg/m3 because the revised 2012 standard of 12 µg/m3 is more protective of public health.

States Reviewing Proposal 

Officials with national organizations representing state air regulatory agencies were still reviewing the proposal and were unable to comment on its contents.

Clint Woods, executive director of the Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies, told Bloomberg BNA in a March 12 e-mail that the association has a webinar with EPA officials on the proposal scheduled for the week of March 16.

Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, also was unable to comment on the proposal, but he said it is “extraordinarily important” for the EPA to issue its implementation rules as soon as possible after a revised national air standard is finalized.

Becker told Bloomberg BNA March 12 that it is “regrettable” that the implementation rule for the 2012 fine particulate matter standard is being proposed more than two years after the rule was finalized in December 2012.

It's more difficult for state air agencies to let industry and other affected parties know of the potential effects of a revised standard when states don't know what the ground rules for implementation will be, Becker said.

EPA Urged to Issue Proposed, Final Rules 

NACAA has requested that the EPA issue a proposed implementation rule alongside its anticipated final rule (RIN 2060-AP38) to revise the ozone standards, which are expected by Oct. 1. The agency has “pledged to do a better job” on the implementation regulation for the 2015 ozone standards, Becker said.

The EPA will accept public comments on the proposed rule for 60 days after the document is printed in the Federal Register.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Ambrosio in Washington at pambrosio@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

A prepublication version of the EPA's proposed implementation rule for the 2012 fine particulate matter standards is available at http://www.epa.gov/pm/pdfs/20150311proposal.pdf.