The Environmental Protection Agency is toughening air quality standards for fine particulate matter, or soot, over the objections of some industry groups and lawmakers.
The agency unveiled final rules on Friday that ratchet down the annual exposure standard to 12 micrograms per cubic meter, a 20 percent reduction from the current standard of 15 micrograms.
EPA had faced a court-ordered deadline Friday to complete the rules, which will cover a dangerous microscopic pollution that is emitted by factories and power plants, diesel vehicles, ships and many other sources.
The agency touted the benefits of the rules Friday.
Public health and environmental groups cheered the action to further reduce emissions of the microscopic pollution, which reaches deep into the lungs and enters the bloodstream.
Soot is linked to respiratory and cardiovascular problems such as asthma, bronchitis and irregular heartbeat.
“We know clearly that particle pollution is harmful at levels well below those previously deemed to be safe. Particle pollution causes premature deaths and illness, threatening the millions of Americans who breathe high levels of it,” said Norman H. Edelman, the chief medical officer for the American Lung Association (ALA).
“By setting a more protective standard, the EPA is stating that we as a nation must protect the health of the public by cleaning up even more of this lethal pollutant,” he said.
ALA, along with other environmentalists and 11 states, had sued EPA to force revised soot rules. They were issued in draft form in June.
Several industry groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the American Petroleum Institute, opposed the tougher rules and warned they would thwart economic growth. NAM CEO Jay Timmons slammed EPA's decision on Friday and said the agency should stick with the standards set in 1997.
“This new standard will crush manufacturers’ plans for growth by restricting counties’ ability to issue permits for new facilities, which makes them less attractive for new business. Essentially, existing facilities will have to be shuttered for new facilities to be built in these areas,” Timmons said in a statement.
EPA disputed the industry criticisms, arguing that other existing EPA and state initiatives will ensure that most regions would be able to meet the new fine particulate matter requirements.
“Emission reductions from EPA and states rules already on the books will help 99 percent of counties with monitors meet the revised PM2.5 standards without additional emission reductions. These rules include clean diesel rules for vehicles and fuels, and rules to reduce pollution from power plants, locomotives, marine vessels and power plants, among others,” EPA said .
EPA plans to make designations about which counties aren't in attainment with the rules by the end of 2014, and states must provide implementation plans to EPA in 2018.
States must come into compliance in 2020, but may seek extensions to as late as 2025, “depending on the severity of an area’s fine particle pollution problems and the availability of pollution controls,” EPA said.
EPA went ahead with final rules despite eleventh-hour appeals from industry groups and Capitol Hill opponents of the tougher standards.
In a letter Friday, five Republican senators and one Democrat — Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu — urged EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to maintain the existing standard and work with states that are still implementing it.
The senators say the tougher standards will “impose significant new economic burdens on many communities, hurting workers and their families just as they are struggling to overcome difficult economic times.”
GOP Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), James Inhofe (Okla.), Rob Portman (Ohio) Roy Blunt (Mo.), and Mike Lee (Utah) signed the letter.
This post was updated at 1:06 p.m. and 1:46 p.m.