The Biden administration finalized regulations severely tightening restrictions on fine particulate matter that the manufacturing and energy sectors are legally allowed to emit, an action that industry said would have devastating economic consequences.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled the regulations Wednesday morning in a joint announcement with environmental activists, saying limiting particulate matter known as PM2.5 or soot would have health benefits for Americans nationwide. The rulemaking lowers the annual PM2.5 standard from a level of 12 micrograms per cubic meter to a level of 9 micrograms per cubic meter.
“Today’s action is a critical step forward that will better protect workers, families and communities from the dangerous and costly impacts of fine particle pollution,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan told reporters in a call. “The science is clear. Soot pollution is one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution and is linked to a range of serious and potentially deadly illnesses, including asthma and heart attacks.”
“The stronger standard is designed to ensure clear, routine pathways for industry to continue to upgrade and build while maintaining cleaner, healthier air,” Regan continued. “We know that cleaner air and a strong and bustling economy go hand in hand.”
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According to EPA, the regulations will prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths and 290,000 lost workdays while yielding up to $46 billion in net health benefits by 2032. And the agency further estimated that, for every $1 spent complying with the PM2.5 regulations, there could be up to $77 in human health benefits by 2032.
And the agency noted that as PM2.5 concentrations have decreased 42% since 2000, the U.S. gross domestic product has increased 52%.
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“The Biden administration is taking life-saving action to protect people and rein in deadly pollution,” said Abigail Dillen, the president of the left-wing eco group Earthjustice. “This federal standard will ensure that states respond to the ongoing public health and environmental justice crisis, saving thousands of lives and avoiding 800,000 asthma symptom cases every year.”
However, industry associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and American Petroleum Institute (API) have warned of the potentially wide-ranging impacts of more restrictive particulate matter restrictions. In a September letter to Regan, those groups and 30 other industry associations said the regulations could lead to onerous permitting requirements that would “freeze manufacturing and supply chain investments.”
They also pointed to a May 2023 study conducted by Oxford Economics and commissioned by NAM that concluded more restrictive PM2.5 regulations would threaten between $162.4 and $197.4 billion of economic activity while putting 852,100 to 973,900 current jobs at risk.
“Tightening the NAAQS PM2.5 standard will grind permits to a halt for a large portion of our country,” Marty Durbin, the senior vice president for policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday. “EPA’s new rule is expected to put 569 counties out of compliance and push many others close to the limit, which threatens economic growth.”
“Compliance with the new standard will be very difficult because 84% of emissions now come from non-industrial sources like wildfires and road dust that are costly and hard to control,” he continued. “While EPA states there are exemptions for wildfires, 70% of those requests haven’t been granted in the past, and the process for seeking one is time-consuming and difficult for states to manage.”
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Durbin added that EPA should have maintained the previous standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter and focused its attention instead on reducing non-industrial emissions. The regulations Wednesday, he said, punish counties and the private sector “for situations largely out of their control.”
The regulations, meanwhile, will make the U.S. PM2.5 standards among the world’s most burdensome. While Australia and Canada have annual standards lower than 9 micrograms per cubic meter, Japan has a standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter, and the U.K. and European Union both have a standard of 20 micrograms per cubic meter.
China and India have annual standards of 35 micrograms per cubic meter or greater.
“Protecting public health and the environment is a top priority for our industry, and America has seen significant air quality improvements and reduced emissions over the past decades under the existing EPA standards,” said API Vice President of Downstream Policy Will Hupman.
“Yet, today’s announcement is the latest in a growing list of short-sighted policy actions that have no scientific basis and prioritize foreign energy and manufacturing from unstable regions of the world over American jobs, manufacturing, and national security,” Hupman continued. “As we review the final standard, we will consider all our options.”
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Additionally, Democrats such as Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly have each expressed concern about tighter PM2.5 standards since EPA first proposed the regulations early last year. Both governors recently penned letters to President Biden, warning of the negative consequences of rapidly implementing the regulations without a “glide path.”
“Although particulate matter in the air is a recognized health concern for our citizens, a sharp reduction in the standard without a sufficient glide path or compliance window for regulatory agencies and affected industries may result in significant implementation challenges and a negative impact on industry and future job growth in our state,” Kelly wrote to Biden on Jan. 31.