As anticipated, the Environmental Protection Agency announced on Friday that it was proposing to update and tighten national air quality standards for fine-particle soot.
Somewhat surprisingly, however, the agency said that by the time these new standards were fully in force in 2020, all but six counties in the United States would be in compliance with them as a result of steps taken to abide by other tightened rules.
Highway 60 in Riverside County, Calif., an area that faces notable air pollution challenges. (Getty Images)
The E.P.A. also predicted that the costs of compliance would be relatively modest. Depending on the final standard adopted, it said, the costs of compliance could be as low as $2.9 million, with an anticipated $88 million a year in benefits, or range as high as $69 million, an investment that would yield $5.9 billion in benefits. The cost-benefit analysis shows that investing in pollution control yields returns, the agency said.
Soot, or the microscopic particulates emitted by car tailpipes, diesel engines and industry smokestacks, among other sources, has been found to cause thousands of deaths from lung and heart disease.
Considering the hostile stance of many Congressional Republicans on the issue of environmental regulation, and the fact that President Obama is running for re-election this year, it is not surprising that the E.P.A. would emphasize the potential economic benefits in its announcement. Still, its analysis seemed somewhat perplexing; the agency’s current count indicates that 162 counties and 17 partial counties exceed the maximum fine-particulate levels that are being proposed.
The current standard of 15 micrograms of fine particulates per cubic meter of air has been in place since 1997, and today’s proposed rules would lower it to 12 to 13.
Gina McCarthy. (Environmental Protection Agency)
But Gina McCarthy, an assistant administrator for the E.P.A. who oversees its Office of Air and Radiation, explained in a telephone news conference that counties were already moving in the right direction. Some of the rules that the agency has put into place recently will significantly reduce fine-particulate pollution in any case, she said.
Some rules that Ms. McCarthy cited that are already making a difference pinpoint emissions from railroads, automobiles, marine vessels and diesel engines at construction sites. The technology needed to meet the new standard is already “available and cost-effective,” she said. “We are already getting these reductions, and we are doing it well.”
William Becker, the executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, a nonpartisan association of state and local air pollution agencies praised the new standards, saying they were based on “good science.”
He said he considered the E.P.A. analysis to be “sort of true” but that several variables needed to be sorted out before it could be verified. For example, could Congressional Republicans roll back a recently approved rule on limiting mercury emissions from power plants that is considered crucial to reducing air pollution? The coal industry is fighting the mercury regulations in court as well.
“It is too early to declare victory,” Mr. Becker said.
Ms. McCarthy took pains to emphasize that the six counties singled out by the E.P.A. as potentially being out of compliance in 2020 had unique problems like high concentrations of wood-burning stoves, and that the agency would be working with them. Those counties are Riverside and San Bernadino counties in California; Santa Cruz County, Ariz.; Wayne County, Mich.; Jefferson County, Ala.; and Lincoln County, Mont.
Author: Leslie Kaufman
Source: The New York Times