March 4, 2024

The Environmental Protection Agency has the Final version of a long-awaited rule Wednesday that tightens restrictions on fine particulate matter — one of the most pervasive and dangerous forms of air pollution. It’s the EPA’s first update to its particulate matter standard in more than a decade, and the agency said the new rule will save thousands of American lives each year.

Fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, is a category of small airborne particles produced by power plants, forest fires and industrial factories, among others. The tiny bits of matter are about 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair and can get lodged deep inside human lungs. PM2.5, often referred to as soot, is linked to serious health problems, such as asthma, lung and heart disease, and respiratory symptoms. One in three Americans breathe unhealthy airand studies have shown that low-income and minority communities across the country, historically clustered near power plants and other industrial infrastructure, carry the burden of these health effects.

The Biden administration said the new rule — which lowers the existing annual standard for fine particles 12 micrograms of matter per cubic meter of air to 9 micrograms—would prevent an estimated 4,500 premature deaths each year and ultimately yield $46 billion in net health benefits annually.

The EPA plans to take samples of air across the country from this year through 2026 to ensure that states comply with the new rule. It will also adapt its air monitoring network to better capture the air pollution risks facing communities living near industrial infrastructure. Then states will have to develop plans to meet the EPA’s new requirements within 18 months.

“This final air quality standard will save lives and make all people healthier, especially within America’s most vulnerable and congested communities,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

The EPA’s announcement Wednesday was met with immediate backlash from business groups, which challenged the new rule on the grounds that it would raise costs for power plants and factories, and lead to layoffs in the manufacturing sector. Mike Ireland, president of the Portland Cement Association, told the New York Times that the rule “would result in fewer hours of operation at plants, which would mean layoffs, as well as less American cement and concrete at a time when the country needs more.” The Portland Cement Association and other industry groups are likely to try to challenge the standard in court.

The EPA estimates that about 59 counties across the United States — less than 2 percent of the nation’s counties — may not meet the new standards. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an industry lobby group that opposes the new rule, puts the percentage of non-compliant counties at 18 percent. States that do not meet the new standards will begin paying fines by 2032.

Some congressional lawmakers have also been critical of the tighter restrictions. Senator Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, said the rule “incentivizes manufacturing to move their jobs to China away from Louisiana,” and appealed to Congress to “step in” to prevent the standard from taking effect.

Other groups, meanwhile, argue that the rule could have gone further and limited fine particles to 8 micrograms per cubic meter — the number initially proposed by the EPA’s own Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. “While the stronger annual particulate pollution standard will mean fewer asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes and deaths,” the American Lung Association said in a statement, “it is disappointing that EPA has not followed the strong science-based recommendations of the Clean . Aeronautical Science Advisory Committee.” Studies Showed that virtually no amount of particles is safe for humans.

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