The Biden administration says it will consider stricter limits on a deadly air pollutant that disproportionately affects low-income and minority communities.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will reconsider federal limits on fine industrial soot, one of the most common and deadly forms of air pollution, toward enacting tough new rules on emissions from power plants, factories and other industrial facilities.
The announcement, made Thursday by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan, came after the Trump administration last year refused to tighten pollution limits, despite warnings from federal scientists and others that it could take a year to do so. More than 10,000 lives could be saved, especially in urban areas.
Recent scientific studies have also linked microscopic soot pollution to higher rates of death from COVID-19. Black and brown communities are particularly exposed to soot and other air pollution because they are often located near highways, power plants and other industrial facilities.
And the Biden administration suggested the move was part of its strategy to address environmental justice.
Mr Regan said in a statement: “The most vulnerable among us are most at risk of exposure to particulate matter, and that’s why it’s so important that we take a close look at these standards, which haven’t been updated in nine years.” is.” He said it is important that the review “reflects the latest science and public health data.”
By law, the EPA is required every five years to review the latest science and update the soot standard. However, legal experts say nothing can stop the Biden administration from reviewing and tightening the standard earlier.
Mr Regan said his office would formally review the Trump regime, finalized in December 2020, which refused to put a moratorium on the tiny, lung-damaging particles known as PM 2.5 was.
The EPA said it expects to propose a new draft rule by the summer of 2022 and issue a final new rule by the spring of 2023.
Public health advocates applauded the move. “The EPA’s decision to reconsider the inadequate national limits on particulate matter is good news for the nation’s lung health,” said Harold Wimmer, chief executive of the American Lung Association. “The need is urgent for stronger standards that reflect what the science shows to protect public health.”
Polluting industries are expected to lobby heavily against the imposition of a strict new soot pollution rule.
The current Trump regime retains a standard enacted in 2012 during the Obama administration. That rule limited industrial fine particulate pollution – about 1/30th of the width of each human hair, but linked to heart attacks, strokes and premature deaths – to 12 micrograms per cubic metre. But the law requires that the federal government review the science associated with those standards every five years.
When EPA scientists conducted that mandatory review during the Trump administration, many concluded that if the federal government tightened that standard to about nine micrograms per cubic meter, more than 12,000 Americans a year would die. Lives can be saved.
In Draft 457-page Scientific Evaluation Regarding the risks associated with maintaining or strengthening the fine soot pollution rule, EPA career scientists estimated that the current standard is “associated with 45,000 deaths” annually. The scientists wrote that if the rule is tightened to nine micrograms per cubic metre, annual deaths would drop by about 27 percent, or 12,150 people a year.
Following the publication of that report, several industries, including oil and coal companies, automakers and chemical manufacturers, urged the Trump administration to disregard the findings and not tighten the rule.
Douglas Buffington, deputy attorney general of West Virginia, a heavily coal-dependent state, said the tightening of the standard “could have been a major blow to the coal industry” at the time the Trump rule was in place.
Last April, Harvard researchers researchers First nationwide study released Linking prolonged exposure to PM 2.5 with higher COVID-19 mortality.
Andrew Wheeler, EPA administrator during the Trump administration, said at the time he announced the rule that his decision not to tighten soot standards took into account a range of scientific evidence.
“This comes after careful consultation with the agency’s independent scientific advisory board and consideration of more than 60,000 public comments,” he said.
However, he said the Harvard study, which had not completed its scientific peer review process as of November 2020, was too recent to note.
“We saw it but it would be unfair to consider it,” he said.
The Biden administration’s decision to review the extent of air pollution is one of the reversals to Trump-era environmental decisions, which were itself a reversal of the Obama administration’s actions. The Trump administration repealed or weakened more than 100 environmental regulations or laws, loosening or eliminating regulations on climate change, clean air, chemical pollution, coal mining, oil drilling and endangered species protection.