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EPA to reconsider Trump decision not to tighten soot air quality standards

EPA to reconsider Trump decision not to tighten soot air quality standards
© Greg Nash

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Thursday that it will reconsider air quality standards for soot that the Trump administration declined to tighten. 

A statement from the agency said that it would take a second look at the standards for the pollution, also known as particulate matter, because “available scientific evidence and technical information indicate that the current standards may not be adequate to protect public health and welfare.”

The EPA said that it anticipates proposing a new rule next summer and promulgating a final rule in spring 2023.

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“The most vulnerable among us are most at risk from exposure to particulate matter, and that’s why it’s so important we take a hard look at these standards that haven’t been updated in nine years,” Administrator Michael ReganMichael ReganOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Manchin-led committee puts forth sprawling energy infrastructure proposal | House to take big step on eliminating Trump-era rules | Controversial St. Croix oil refinery to shutter 'indefinitely' A healthier planet and economy is worth fighting for Controversial St. Croix oil refinery to shutter 'indefinitely' MORE said in a statement. 

Exposure to a smaller form of particulate matter called fine particulate matter has been linked to health risks including heart attacks, asthma attacks, and premature death.

The EPA in December finalized a decision to retain standards set by the Obama administration in 2012 for both fine and coarse forms of particulate matter. 

Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland reportedly recommends full restoration of monuments Trump altered | EPA to reinstate air pollution panel disbanded under Trump | State appeals court upholds approval of Minnesota pipeline EPA to reinstate air pollution panel disbanded under Trump Overnight Energy: EPA to reconsider Trump decision not to tighten soot standards | Interior proposes withdrawal of Trump rule that would allow drillers to pay less | EPA reverses Trump guidance it said weakened 'forever chemicals' regulations MORE at the time defended the standard as “protective of public health.”

But, a policy assessment from agency staff last year found that long-term exposure to the current maximum standard for fine particulate matter could result in thousands more people being put at risk than if the standard were tightened. 

It said that scientific evidence and air quality analyses “can reasonably be viewed as calling into question the adequacy of the public health protection afforded by the combination of the current ... standards” for fine particulate matter.

“A conclusion that the current ... standards do provide adequate public health protection would place little weight on the broad body of epidemiologic evidence reporting generally positive and statistically significant health effect associations,” it continued.