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EPA Tightens Soot Pollution Standard

The EPA has toughened its air quality standards for fine particulate matter, or soot, released from automobile exhausts and power plants. The agency set the annual health standard at 12 micrograms per cubic meter, a 20 percent reduction from the current rule.

The agency finalized the rules Friday in response to a court-ordered deadline. The existing daily limit of 35 micrograms for fine particles as well as course particles, which includes dust from farms and other sources, remain unchanged.

Most of the US already meets the annual fine particulate health standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter, the EPA said (see graphic).

The agency expects that by 2030, all standards cutting fine particle pollution, or PM2.5, from diesel vehicles and equipment will prevent 40,000 premature deaths, 32,000 hospital admissions and 4.7 million days of work lost due to illness.

The estimated cost of implementing the standards ranges from $53 million to $350 million, the agency said. Health benefits from the PM2.5 standards are expected to save between $4 billion and $9 billion per year, according to the EPA’s estimates.

Industry groups, including the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers, opposed the tougher standards and warned they could curb industrial activity. The new standards are unnecessary and could drive up costs for new and expanding businesses trying to hire employees, Howard Feldman, API’s director of regulator and scientific affairs, said in response to the EPA’s action.

The American Lung Association and environmental groups praised the regulations. Clean Air Watch President Frank O’Donnell called the decision historic, noting in an emailed comment it is the first time the EPA has ever tightened the critical long-term soot standard first established 15 years ago.

This is the first major environmental regulation since President Obama’s re-election. Earlier this year, the EPA was criticized for delaying or softening proposed standards that affect the industrial sector.

The EPA deferred requirements for industrial waste landfills to report the methane correction factor used in their emissions and for underground coal mines to report the moisture content and gaseous organic concentration factor used in their emissions calculations, until March 31, 2013.

The agency also delayed the requirement for petroleum and natural gas systems, underground coal mines and industrial waste landfills to report certain data they use to determine their greenhouse gas emissions. In July, the EPA postponed finalizing standards for cooling water intake structures at industrial facilities.

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