Fewer than 10 out of the more than 3,000 counties in the United States will need to consider any local actions to reduce fine particle pollution in order to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) national air quality standards announced on December 14. The rest can rely on air quality improvements from federal rules already on the books to meet this new standard.
The agency finalized an update to its national air quality standards for harmful fine-particle pollution (PM-2.5), including soot, setting the annual health standard at 12 micrograms per cubic meter by 2020, as required by the Clean Air Act.
The announcement has no effect on the existing daily standard for fine particles or the existing daily standard for coarse particles (PM-10). By 2030, it is expected that 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.
“These standards are fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act. We will save lives and reduce the burden of illness in our communities, and families across the country will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.
The Clean Air Act mandates the EPA to review its air quality standards every five years, in order to determine whether the standards should be revised. The law requires the agency to ensure the standards are “requisite to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety” and “requisite to protect the public welfare.” A federal court ordered the EPA to issue final standard by December 14, because the agency did not meet its five-year legal deadline for reviewing the standards
The agency stated that the newest standard, which was proposed in June and is consistent with the advice from the agency’s independent science advisors, is based on an extensive body of scientific evidence that includes thousands of studies – including many large studies that show negative health impacts at lower levels than previously understood. It also follows extensive consultation with stakeholders, including the public, health organizations, and industry, and after considering more than 230,000 public comments.The standards are expected to reap major economic benefits with comparatively low costs. EPA estimates health benefits of the revised standard to range from $4 billion to more than $9 billion per year, with estimated costs of implementation ranging from $53 million to $350 million.
The agency further stated, “While EPA cannot consider costs in selecting a standard under the Clean Air Act, those costs are estimated as part of the careful analysis undertaken for all significant regulations, as required by Executive Order 13563 issued by President Obama in January 2011.”
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Edited by Brooke Neuman