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EPA Proposes New Air Pollution Rules to Limit Soot From Power Plants, Vehicles -- WSJ

The Wall Street Journal · 01/06/2023 10:00

By Eric Niiler

WASHINGTON -- The Biden administration on Friday proposed tougher rules on airborne soot produced by factories and vehicles, saying the measures would save 4,200 lives annually and billions of dollars in healthcare costs when fully implemented in 2032.

The proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency targets tiny particles of airborne pollutants that can penetrate the lungs and cause human health effects, including asthma, heart attacks and premature death.

EPA officials said compliance with the new rules could cost industry up to $390 million annually beginning in 2032.

"This proposal will help ensure that all communities, especially the most vulnerable among us, are protected from exposure to harmful pollution," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. "This proposal to deliver stronger health protections against particulate matter is grounded in the best available science."

The proposal now goes out for public comment for the next 60 days and the EPA said it would issue its final soot rule in 2024.

Agency officials came up with their estimates of lives saved and health benefits by reviewing existing studies on the health effects of air pollution that were compiled in a 328-page scientific assessment and a 685-page policy assessment, both of which were released in May 2022.

The EPA estimated that, when fully implemented in 2032, the tougher air measures will result in savings of an estimated $43 billion a year because of fewer trips to hospital emergency rooms, less money spent on medication, fewer lost work days and fewer people prematurely dying.

Mr. Regan's announcement came after EPA scientists reviewed years of scientific studies and reversed the decision by his predecessor in the Trump administration, Andrew Wheeler, who in 2020 decided to keep existing standards that had been in place since 2012.

Chemical, oil and other industrial groups that will pay the cost of implementing the higher standards had argued for keeping particulate standards at existing levels, while environmentalists and public health advocates supported tougher standards, saying they would benefit children with asthma, as well as the elderly and minority communities, which are disproportionately affected by soot.

The standard by itself doesn't force any polluter to shut down, but the EPA and state regulators could use it as the basis for other rules that target pollution from specific sources.

The administration proposal would require states, counties and tribal governments to meet a stricter air quality standard for airborne particles that are smaller than 2.5 microns, about the size of a human hair.

The agency is proposing to lower the current annual standard of 12 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter of air to somewhere between 9 and 10 micrograms per cubic meter depending on the final rule, the agency said.

Particulate matter is emitted directly from power plants, smokestacks, construction sites and farmers' fields. It also forms in the atmosphere when emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from factories and vehicle tailpipes react with sunlight to form nitrate and sulfate particles. Naturally occurring sources of particulate matter include wildfires, windblown dust and salt spray from the ocean.

Under the proposal unveiled Friday, 112 counties that currently meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for fine particulates would be out of compliance and forced to make changes, such as reducing emissions from factories or requiring cleaner vehicles.

In December 2022, the EPA announced tougher emissions standards for heavy duty vehicles for engine manufacturers to lower nitrogen-oxide emissions from tractor-trailer-size trucks, as well as other delivery trucks, cement mixers and trash trucks.

The standards require manufacturers to create gasoline- and diesel-engine models with better exhaust systems. Industry officials said that could significantly raise the cost of new vehicles, which could lead older vehicles to stay on the roads longer, running counter to the administration's public-health goals.

The EPA is also proposing tougher emissions standards for power plants and oil-and-gas operations. Taken together, these new measures are expected to significantly cut the amount of particulates that cause a number of health effects, according to Joseph Goffman, principal deputy assistant administrator in the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation.

"PM is the granddaddy pollutant because, frankly, it's so dangerous to public health and it's so pervasive," Mr. Goffman said. "So almost anytime you are intervening to reduce a pollutant the chances are pretty high that you will be capturing some particle pollution as well."

Write to Eric Niiler at eric.niiler@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 06, 2023 10:00 ET (15:00 GMT)

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