New PM-2-5 NAAQS prompts strong reactions
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December 17, 2012
New PM-2-5 NAAQS prompts strong reactions

Industry believes EPA’s current suite of particulate matter (PM) standards are driving reductions that could reach 20 percent in the “next couple of years” (American Petroleum Institute) and therefore sees no need for the Agency’s latest major revision, which increases the stringency of the PM-2.5 annual standard from 15 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/M3) to 12 µg/M3.

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The Agency’s action revises the 1997 annual primary National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for PM-2.5 while retaining the existing 24-hour PM-2.5 NAAQS at 35 µg/M3.  Under the Clean Air Act, the primary standard must be set at a level that is protective of human health with an adequate margin of safety.  The Act also compels the Agency to review and, if necessary, revise the NAAQS every 5 years.  The EPA was taken to court by public health and environmental groups and a number of states to undertake the overdue PM reviews; the Agency was subsequently ordered to do so by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. 

Secondary standards unchanged

As a result of its review, the EPA also announced that it was retaining the secondary, or environmental, standards for PM-2.5 as well as the primary and secondary standards for coarse PM or PM-10.  The Agency had proposed lowering the existing secondary annual PM-2.5 NAAQS to  30 µg/M3, primarily to improve visibility.  But after reviewing recent air quality data, the Agency concluded that the current secondary standard of  35 µg/M3 will provide visibility protection equal to or greater than 30 deciviews, the target level of protection the Agency is setting in the current action.

Attainment by 2020

The revised PM-2.5 NAAQS triggers a process wherein states must ensure that all their counties attain the standard by 2020; counties with the most severe nonattainment problems may request an extension to 2025 if they can persuade the EPA the extra time is needed to implement air quality controls that address local pollution problems.  The revised NAAQS requires that a small number of PM-2.5 monitors be moved to measure air quality near highways in large urban areas.  According to the Agency, only seven counties, all in Southern California, will need to consider local actions to achieve the PM-2.5 reductions needed to come into attainment by 2020.  The rest can rely on air quality improvements from federal rules already on the books to meet the new standards, says the EPA.

The EPA said it decided to revise the standard after reviewing thousands of studies, including hundreds of new studies published since the Agency completed its last review of the PM NAAQS in 2006.  The change is also in line with the recommendations of the independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, says the Agency.  The EPA notes that it received more than 230,000 public comments on its proposal. 

“Life-saving action”

The American Lung Association, one of the primary litigants in the court action, stated that the Agency’s “life-saving action … will prevent heart attacks and asthma attacks, and will keep children out of the emergency room and hospitals.”

The EPA estimates that by 2030 all standards that cut PM-2.5 from diesel vehicles and equipment alone will prevent up to 40,000 premature deaths, 32,000 hospital admissions, and 4.7 million days of work lost due to illness.  The monetary benefits of the revised standard are $4 billion to $9 billion at an estimated implementation cost of $53 million to $350 million, claims the Agency. 

Plant closures

But large industry associations had an entirely different perspective on the rule change, which, they assert, appears to have been made in utter disregard of the economic challenges imminent as the nation approaches the dangerous fiscal cliff. 

“This new standard will crush manufacturers’ plans for growth by restricting counties’ ability to issue permits for new facilities,” states the National Association of Manufacturers in one typical response.  “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’s action did include one concession to industry.  Specifically, under a grandfathering provision, sources with pending Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) preconstruction permits (i.e., permit applications the permitting agency found complete by December 14, 2012) will not be required to meet the revised standard.

Click here for the new annual PM-2.5 primary NAAQS and supporting information.

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