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11th-Hour Battle To Sway Outcome Of PM NAAQS Revision

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Groups Wage 11th-Hour Battle To Sway Outcome Of PM NAAQS Revision

Posted: December 12, 2012

Industry groups, environmentalists, lawmakers and others are making last-minute pitches to try and influence the outcome of the agency’s imminent revisions to its fine particulate matter (PM2.5) national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS), with EPA facing a Dec. 14 legal deadline to decide whether to tighten or retain the NAAQS.

EPA has also agreed to respond by Dec. 14 to environmentalists’ petition asking the agency to undo provisions in 39 state implementation plans (SIPs) — air quality plans for meeting EPA air standards — exempting excess emissions during startup, shutdown and malfunction (SSM) periods from counting toward air law compliance.

But the agency has secured a one-month extension — from Dec. 14 to Jan. 14 — for issuing a reciprocating internal combustion engine rule that had also been due under a Dec. 14 settlement deadline.

Observers had questioned whether EPA would make the end-of-week deadlines, noting that the PM2.5 and engine air rules were only sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in December and that inter-agency review can take several months. OMB review is mandatory before EPA can publish important rules.

The agency’s expected tightening of its PM2.5 national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) is likely to have the most significant impact as it will affect all areas of the United States. If EPA follows through on its proposal to tighten the existing 1997 level of 15 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) down to a range of 12-13 ug/m3, it could put several new areas out of attainment, requiring them to craft strict pollution control plans to meet the NAAQS.

Critics say those plans will impose massive costs and hinder the economic recovery. For example, Howard Feldman of the American Petroleum Institute (API) argued on a Dec. 12 conference call that a stronger standard would have “certain costs and doubtful benefits,” questioning the science underpinning a stricter standard.

He also said that a tighter PM2.5 NAAQS, combined with other forthcoming EPA rules, “would be a blow to our economy as it struggles to recover and put Americans back to work.”

Feldman said API is urging EPA to retain the current standard, and said his group will meet with OMB Dec. 13 to discuss the rule. But noting that the standard is due to be finalized only one day later, Feldman said “I’m not sure how fair a hearing our comments will get given” the impending deadline to finalize the rule.

Environmentalists have expressed confidence that EPA will finalize the NAAQS Dec. 14, and supporters have called on EPA to set a tighter standard than proposed, down to at least 11 ug/m3.

Push For Stricter Standard

In a Dec. 6 letter to OMB, attorneys general (AGs) from New York, Maryland, New Mexico, Washington, Vermont and other states note that they successfully challenged the 2006 standard in the D.C. Circuit case American Farm Bureau Federation v. EPA, and the D.C. Circuit found that it was “contrary to law.”

The AGs argue that setting a standard at 13 ug/m3 “would not satisfy the agency’s obligation under the statute to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety,” citing both the findings of EPA staff and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee that harms could come from PM2.5 exposures below this level.

“Therefore, we believe it would be contrary to the Clean Air Act and to the D.C. Circuit’s decision in American Farm Bureau to set the annual standard at 13 ug/m3,” the AGs say.

They also express support for a standard no higher than 12 ug/m3, saying it is “necessary to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety as required under the Clean Air Act” and “compelled both by the extensive and overwhelming public health evidence contained in the record and by EPA’s own 2010 quantitative health risk assessment for particulate matter.”

Citing the need to “protect our nation’s most vulnerable,” 56 House Democrats sent a letter to EPA Dec. 10 urging the agency to adopt a strong standard, saying it is necessary to reduce the number of hospital admissions, emergency room visits and premature deaths related to cardiovascular and respiratory complications.”

And the Natural Resources Defense Council in a Dec. 7 letter to EPA highlighted several new studies linking PM2.5 exposures to life expectancy and pulmonary issues to bolster calls for a stricter limit, saying that “we think it is important to consider this important information as EPA finalizes the standards.”

Meanwhile, EPA also faces a Dec. 14 settlement agreement deadline with Sierra Club and other environmental groups to reply to their petition asking the agency to undo the SIP provisions allowing SSM exemptions from air law compliance.

Environmentalists argue that emissions during such events can be orders of magnitude greater than emissions during normal operations, and that some SIPs contain provisions that are inconsistent with EPA policy and recent court decisions that have said SSM exemptions are not allowed under some air standards.
Bobby McMahon (

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