The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today finalized new standards limiting harmful soot pollution, a move that came after a federal judge earlier this year ordered the agency to act by December 14.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a conference call with reporters trumpeted the stricter standards, which she said will prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths and save as much as $9 billion in health care costs each year.
"There will be fewer expensive trips to the emergency room and hospital,” she said. “More children will be able to go outside and play with their friends….Our children and our children’s children will have cleaner air to breath for decades to come.”
Still, for all the benefits – EPA says that for every dollar spent in compliance, as much as $171 will be saved in healthcare and other areas – the agency only acted after Judge Robert Wilkins of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the EPA to do so.
In 2010, 11 states including New York and California as well as health and conservation groups sued EPA, complaining that the agency failed to meet deadlines for new soot standards. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to update the standards every five years, and Wilkins ruled that the agency had not provided a reasonable explanation for the delay.
The new national air quality standards apply to fine particle pollution that can penetrate deep into the lungs, and is linked to ailments including heart attacks, strokes and asthma. It comes from a range of sources including diesel vehicles, power plants and wood burning stoves. The new standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter is a 20 percent reduction from the current level of 15 micrograms.
Like almost every EPA rulemaking, it was deeply controversial – the agency received more than 230,000 written comments before finalizing the new air quality standards.
In a statement, National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons said the new standards "will crush manufacturers' plans for growth by restricting counties' ability to issue permits for new facilities, which makes them less attractive for new business." NAM had urged EPA to retain the current standard, and said that the "EPA's actions today will only further dampen manufacturers' already dismal outlook for 2013."
According to the EPA, fewer than 10 counties out of the more than 3,000 in the United States will need to consider any local actions to reduce fine particle pollution in order to meet the new standard by 2020.