WASHINGTON – Biden administration to reconsider federal limits on fine industrial soot, one of the most common and deadly forms of air pollution, in a bid to impose tough new rules on plant emissions electrical, factories and other industrial facilities.
The announcement, made Thursday by Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael S. Regan, comes after the Trump administration last year refused to tighten pollution limits, despite warnings from federal scientists and others. that it could save more than 10,000 lives per year, especially in urban areas.
Recent scientific studies have also linked fine soot pollution to higher death rates from Covid-19. Black and brown communities tend to be particularly exposed to soot and other air pollution, as they are often located near highways, power stations, and other industrial facilities.
And the Biden administration suggested the move was part of its environmental justice strategy.
“The most vulnerable among us are the most exposed to particulates, and that is why it is so important that we take a close look at these standards which have not been updated for nine years,” Regan said in a statement. He said it was important that the new review “reflect the latest scientific and public health data”.
By law, the EPA is required every five years to review the latest scientific data and update the soot standard. However, legal experts have said nothing could stop the Biden administration from reviewing and tightening the standard sooner than that.
Mr Regan said his office would formally review a Trump rule, made final in December 2020, that refused to quell the tiny lung-damaging particles known as PM 2.5.
The EPA said it plans to come up with a new draft rule by summer 2022 and publish a new final rule by spring 2023.
Public health advocates applauded the move. “The EPA’s decision to reconsider inadequate national limits on particulate matter is good news for the country’s lung health,” said Harold Wimmer, chief executive of the American Lung Association. “There is an urgent need for stricter standards that reflect what science shows is necessary to protect public health.”
Polluting industries are expected to lobby hard against the imposition of a tough new soot pollution rule.
The current Trump rule retains a standard promulgated in 2012 under the Obama administration. This rule limited the pollution of fine industrial soot particles – each about 1 / 30th the width of a human hair, but associated with heart attacks, strokes and premature death – to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. But the law requires the federal government to review the science associated with these standards every five years.
When EPA scientists conducted this mandatory review under the Trump administration, many concluded that if the federal government tightened this standard to about nine micrograms per cubic meter, more than 12,000 American lives could be saved per year.
In a 457-page scientific assessment project on the risks associated with maintaining or strengthening the fine soot rule, career scientists at the EPA estimated that the current standard is “associated with 45,000 deaths ”per year. Scientists wrote that if the rule was tightened to nine micrograms per cubic meter, annual deaths would drop by about 27%, or 12,150 people per year.
After the report was released, many industries, including oil and coal companies, automakers and chemical manufacturers, urged the Trump administration to ignore the findings and not tighten the rule.
Douglas Buffington, the deputy attorney general of West Virginia, a state heavily dependent on coal, said at the time of the Trump rule’s release that the tightening of the standard “could have been a blow to the coal industry.”
Last April, Harvard researchers published the first national study linking long-term exposure to PM 2.5 to higher death rates from Covid-19.
Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the EPA under the Trump administration, said as he announced the rule that his decision not to tighten soot standards took into consideration a range of scientific evidence.
“This comes after careful consultation with the agency’s independent science advisory board and the review of over 60,000 public comments,” he said.
However, he said the Harvard study, which only completed its scientific peer review process in November 2020, was too recent to be considered.
“We looked at it, but it would have been inappropriate to consider it,” he said.
The Biden administration’s decision to review air pollution limits is part of a series of reversals it made to Trump-era environmental decisions, which were themselves reversals of administration actions Obama. The Trump administration has repealed or weakened more than 100 environmental rules or laws, relaxing or eliminating rules on climate change, clean air, chemical pollution, coal mining, oil drilling and the protection of endangered species .