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EPA says new air pollution crackdown will save lives

Some advocates say new air quality standards don't go far enough, and that stricter policies would save even more lives.
EPA says new air pollution crackdown will save lives
Posted at 10:50 AM, Feb 07, 2024

The Environmental Protection Agency finalized "stronger" new rules in hopes of cracking down on air pollution in the U.S.

The agency said it is reducing the amount of air pollution new or remodeled power plants, vehicles, and industrial facilities are allowed to emit. The agency said it is reducing the national ambient air quality standard for fine particulate matter from a level of 12 micrograms per cubic meter to 9 micrograms per cubic meter.

The EPA says by 2032, the changes will prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths and 290,000 lost workdays, bringing $46 billion in net health benefits. The agency adds that for every $1 spent to enforce the rule, there could be as much as $77 in human health benefits in 2032.

The decision to strengthen the rules comes after the Biden administration said in June 2021 it would reexamine the EPA's decision under the Trump administration to keep air quality standards at the same standards implemented in 2012. 

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The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee was tasked in 2021 with reissuing recommendations. A 2022 report by the group said a majority of the members supported strengthening the air quality standard for fine particulate matter to somewhere between 8 and 10 micrograms per cubic meter.

While clean-air advocates are pleased to see some progress, the new rule needs to go further, according to the American Lung Association. The organization said more rigorous standards would prevent significantly more deaths and illnesses. 

"EPA’s analysis of the proposal showed that setting an annual standard of 8 micrograms per cubic meter would save significantly more lives, especially in Black communities, than the standard of 9 micrograms per cubic meter," said Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association. "While the stronger annual particle pollution standard will mean fewer asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes and deaths, it is disappointing that EPA did not follow the strong science-based recommendations of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and the health community to also revise the 24-hour standard to more fully protect public health."

But the EPA said that the new standards were developed using "the best available science." 

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“This final air quality standard will save lives and make all people healthier, especially within America’s most vulnerable and overburdened communities,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Cleaner air means that our children have brighter futures, and people can live more productive and active lives, improving our ability to grow and develop as a nation. EPA looks forward to continuing our decades of success in working with states, counties, Tribes, and industry to ensure this critical health standard is implemented effectively to improve the long-term health and productivity of our nation.”  

The EPA considers fine particulate matter as inhalable particles with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller. The particles, which can come from construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks or fires, can enter the bloodstream through the lungs. 

Scientists say these particles can worsen medical conditions like heart and lung disease and asthma and increase the risk for heart attacks, among other issues. 

The new rule would go into effect within 60 days, but the EPA says the earliest that states would likely need to come into attainment is 2032.

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