EPA To Seek Tougher Rules On Soot Opposed By Industry
June 15, 2012
Jim Snyder and Mark Drajem
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will propose today tougher pollution standards for soot, a step that supporters said would protect public health and industry groups warned would crimp economic growth.
The annual standards for particulate matter, microscopic particles released from automobile exhausts, power plants or factories, would be set from 12 to 13 micrograms per cubic meter under a proposed rule the EPA is scheduled to announce today, according to an Obama administration official who spoke last night on condition of anonymity. The current standard is 15 micrograms per cubic meter.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Paul Cort, a staff attorney at San Francisco-based Earthjustice, which was among the environmental groups and states that sought a lower soot standard.
The rule would cover particles 2.5-microns in diameter, which the American Lung Association says can cause heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks.
Lobbyists for fuel refiners and other manufacturers this week pressed officials in President Barack Obama’s administration to maintain the 2006 soot-pollution standards, using the same arguments that helped the companies halt a rewrite of ozone rules last year.
Jeffrey Holmstead, an assistant administrator for air and radiation at the EPA under George W. Bush, said the rule will probably attract attention from Congress because it could limit economic development in some areas.
“It may not sound like much -- lowering the standard from 15 to 13 - but it will mean a lot more regulations in many parts of the country,” said Holmstead, who is now an energy lobbyist at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP. “This won’t be good news for places trying to attract new manufacturing jobs.”
Like the ozone rules, the soot regulations don’t target pollution from one source, and instead set general air-quality levels that local communities and states are responsible for meeting. Final soot rules will be released in December, after the U.S. election.
Virtually all counties in the U.S. will probably be able to meet the standard without taking additional measures beyond what current and proposed clean-air rules require, according to the administration official.
Paul Billings, vice president for national policy and advocacy at the lung association, said the new standard will prevent thousands of premature deaths a year. Even so, the group said it will seek a lower standard of 11 micrograms per cubic meter during the public comment period that will follow EPA’s announcement today.
Cort of Earthjustice said EPA staff had recommended a standard as low as 11 micrograms per cubic meter.
Last September, Obama overruled a proposal by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to tighten standards for ozone nationwide, after a White House meeting with representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and other trade groups.
Jackson last year said the administration wouldn’t adjust standards for larger dust particles. By law, the EPA must review soot standards every five years, and the proposals to be issued today are a year overdue.
The White House and the EPA since September have eased off on a series of proposals aimed at cleaning up pollution from industrial boilers, coal-fired power plants and gas drilling. Still, the administration faced varying degrees of industry complaints for the actions it did take.