Facing a court-ordered deadline of midnight Thursday, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation Gina McCarthy told reporters in a news call that EPA has proposed tightening the annual exposure to fine-particle soot from 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air to between 12 and 13 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Industry officials and environmentalists said the proposal, which will be finalized by mid-December, would have implications for both the U.S. economy and public health.
McCarthy called fine particles “a serious pollutant with serious consequences.” She said EPA estimates that the new rule would produce $30 to $86 in benefits for every dollar invested in pollution control.
But McCarthy added that the agency is prohibited from considering costs when determining soot concentrations. “For the standard setting, we rely on the science,” she said.
Paul Cort, the Earthjustice attorney who represented the Lung Association and the National Parks Conservation Association in a lawsuit forcing EPA to issue the rule, called the proposal an “opening offer” and vowed to press for more stringent restrictions.
“There’s no question that EPA’s proposal is going to save lives,” Court said, estimating that cutting exposure to 13 micrograms per cubic meter would avoid 8,000 premature deaths a year. But he added that reducing the concentration to 11 micrograms would boost that number to 27,000 avoided deaths.
Jeffrey R. Holmstead, head of the EPA’s air and radiation office under President George W. Bush, said he’s been “a little surprised” that industry hasn’t launched as hard a fight against this proposal as it did against an EPA smog proposal last year, which President Obama pulled back in September.
McCarthy said two of the rules that the EPA has finalized — including one curbing mercury and air toxins and another limiting sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide from sources such as power plants and cement plants — ensures that the tighter rule will only affect a tiny number of communities which face challenges such as old diesel engines around ports or railyards, or woodstoves in valleys.
“We’re already on the path for 99 percent of counties to meet the standard, without the need for additional state or local action,” she said.
EPA projects that as many as six counties will not to meet the standards by 2020, when counties must be in compliance, McCarthy said. They are Riverside and San Bernadino in California; Santa Cruz, Ariz.; Wayne County, Mich.; Jefferson County, Ala.; and Lincoln County, Mont.