Thursday, February 22, 2024

California’s air pollution fight just got tougher: New EPA standards raise the bar on soot

Taking aim at a form of air pollution that has long vexed Californians from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday that it is toughening the nation’s standards on fine particulate matter – a health threat related to lungs and heart. disease.

“Today’s action is a critical step that will better protect workers, families and communities from the dangerous and costly impacts of fine particle pollution,” EPA Administrator said , Michael S. Regan, during a press conference. “The science is clear: soot pollution is one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution and is linked to a range of serious and life-threatening illnesses, including asthma and heart attacks.”

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About 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair, fine particles – also called soot or PM2.5 – are released from industrial chimneys, vehicle exhaust, wildfires, agricultural work and even certain forms of cooking. These microscopic debris are small enough to pass into the bloodstream after being inhaled.

In announcing the move, Regan said tougher standards would prevent thousands of premature deaths and improve quality of life in disadvantaged communities, where residents experience some of the highest concentrations of the pollutant.

The new standard lowers the acceptable limit to 9 micrograms per cubic meter, a 25% decrease from the current standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter.

The updated standard is expected to prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths annually and generate up to $46 billion in net health benefits in 2032, according to federal estimates. Regan told reporters this demonstrates the Biden administration’s commitment to science-based decision-making that improves the quality of life in frontline communities.

“The impact of this pollution often disproportionately affects our most vulnerable communities, including low-income communities, communities of color, children, seniors, and those with heart or lung disease,” Regan said .

Although the vast majority of counties nationwide already comply with the new standards, most of California’s population lives in areas that have not met the old threshold, including Greater Los Angeles, San Diego, the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley.

Because of the new rules, state and local officials will have to take drastic measures to reduce pollution from the world’s fourth-largest economy and the country’s largest population.

“EPA’s announcement is a very important step on the path to eliminating cancer-causing particle pollution,” said Will Barrett, senior director of the American Lung Assn. “There is no doubt, particle pollution kills thousands of people every year. We know how harmful this is, and that’s why it’s so important that we begin this new process to strengthen standards and ensure that we reduce harmful pollution levels across the country and, certainly, here in California , where we face some of the most challenging particulate matter problems in the country.

The San Joaquin Valley, a hub for oil drilling and agricultural dust, has long experienced the highest levels of fine particle pollution. Bakersfield and Visalia led the nation with an average annual concentration of 17.8 micrograms per cubic meter between 2019 and 2021, according to the American Lung Assn.

Greater Los Angeles ranked fourth and recorded 14.2 micrograms per cubic meter. Although the region’s bustling ports and freight warehouse economy contribute significantly to this pollution, the largest sources come from its 17 million residents.

The main source of particle pollution in Los Angeles is cooking, which emits 11.6 tons per day. Other major sources include residential heating and road dust from vehicle brakes and tires.

The EPA’s announcement was widely welcomed by environmental advocates, who agreed that tougher measures would push some of the most polluted communities to reduce their harmful emissions and incorporate more zero-emission technologies. But some expressed disappointment that the EPA did not follow the advice of Biden’s science advisory committee, a consortium of academics and experts.

The majority of committee members recommended that Regan propose an annual limit of 8 to 10 micrograms per cubic meter. However, they also suggested the agency lower the 24-hour standard for fine particles to between 25 and 30 micrograms, from its current threshold of 35 micrograms – a move that would protect against pollution outbreaks in the short term – such as a refinery malfunction – which can also be life-threatening.

Some industry executives have expressed dissatisfaction with the new environmental standards, arguing that companies could face permitting hurdles despite contributing only a fraction of emissions.

Tightening the standard “will shut down permitting for a large part of our country,” said Marty Durbin, senior vice president for policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “EPA’s new rule is expected to put 569 countries out of compliance and push many others close to the limit, threatening economic growth. Meeting the new standard will be very difficult because 84% of emissions now come from non-industrial sources like wildfires and road dust, which are costly and difficult to control.

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