EPA Proposes To Tighten Annual PM2.5 Limit But Retain Daily Standard

January 6, 2023

EPA is proposing to tighten its health-based annual limit for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to a level lower than that set by the Obama administration in 2012 but is not planning to tighten its 24-hour limit, disappointing environmental and public health groups and disregarding agency science advisers who pushed for a tougher daily value.

In its long-awaited proposal to revise national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for fine particles, the agency proposes to lower the current “primary,” or health-based limit for PM2.5 from 12 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) down to a tougher limit in the range of 9 ug/m3 to 10 ug/m3.

“Our work to deliver clean, breathable air for everyone is a top priority at EPA, and this proposal will help ensure that all communities, especially the most vulnerable among us, are protected from exposure to harmful pollution,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan told reporters Jan. 5, ahead of the proposal’s release Jan. 6.

“This proposal to deliver stronger health protections against particulate matter is grounded in the best available science, advancing the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to scientific integrity and a rigorous scientific process,” Regan added.

Significantly, however, EPA leaves the rest of its suite of NAAQS for PM2.5 and the larger PM10 unchanged, including “secondary” limits designed to protect the environment, rather than human health directly.

This means the agency does not propose to tighten the 24-hour limit of 35 ug/m3, despite pressure to do so from environmental groups pressing for a limit of 25 ug/m3 and a majority of the agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) seeking a new level set in the range of 25 ug/m3 to 30 ug/m3.

However, the agency is seeking comment on a potential tougher standard set at “as low as” 25 ug/m3.

“The Administrator proposes to conclude that the scientific evidence not clearly call into question the adequacy of the current standard,” EPA says in a fact sheet on the issue.

EPA’s proposal for the annual limit falls squarely within the range suggested by EPA staff of 8 ug/m3 up to 12 ug/m3, and the range of 8 ug/m3 to 10 ug/m3 backed by a large majority of CASAC members.

EPA will take comment, however, on potential standards set at 8 ug/m3 — the preferred level of many public health advocates — and 11 ug/m3 — the level preferred by one CASAC member.

Reducing emissions of PM2.5 is a key priority of the Biden administration, given the range and severity of adverse health effects blamed on fine particles, including lung and cardiovascular problems, and premature death. Reductions in PM2.5 pollution are also estimated by the agency to produce the largest monetized health benefits of any environmental rule.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA must set the NAAQS at a level requisite to protect public health with an “adequate margin of safety,” and by law, EPA cannot consider implementation costs when setting the limits.

Nonattainment Findings

But tougher PM2.5 limits also mean that more parts of the country will likely be classified in NAAQS “nonattainment,” requiring states to impose tougher pollution controls on industry, with significant implementation costs.

The tougher the eventual final standards are, the more areas of the country will fall into nonattainment, raising compliance costs, sources say.

Industry attorneys also note that regardless of nonattainment status, industry permit applicants have to take into account the need to show they will not raise emissions that cause a NAAQS violation when designing their projects.

When pressed by reporters on the proposal’s possible costs, Regan did not directly answer, and referred only to agency estimates of the net benefits, which depend on the level EPA ultimately selects for the annual standard.

EPA says the proposed standard could result in net health benefits valued at up to $17 billion in 2032 for an annual standard of 10 ug/m3 and as much as $43 billion in 2032 for an annual standard set at 9 ug/m3.

Meanwhile, EPA is also proposing to revise its air quality monitoring regulations in order to facilitate implementation of a tougher PM2.5 limit.

“To enhance protection of air quality, especially in overburdened and vulnerable communities with environmental justice concerns subject to disproportionate air pollution risk, EPA is proposing to modify the PM2.5 monitoring network design criteria to include an environmental justice factor. This factor will account for proximity of populations at increased risk of PM2.5-related health effects to sources of air pollution,” EPA says in its fact sheet.

“EPA is also proposing other changes to improve the quality of monitoring data used in regulatory decision making and to better characterize air quality in communities that are at increased risk of PM2.5 exposure and health risk,” the agency says. — Stuart Parker (sparker@iwpnews.com)

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Proposed Decision for the Reconsideration of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter (PM)

On January 6, 2023, after carefully reviewing the most recent available scientific evidence and technical information, and consulting with the Agency’s independent scientific advisors, EPA announced its proposed decision to revise the primary (health-based) annual PM2.5 standard from its current level of 12.0 µg/m3 to within the range of 9.0 to 10.0 µg/m3.  EPA also proposed not to change the current:

  • secondary (welfare-based) annual PM2.5 standard,
  • primary and secondary 24-hour PM2.5 standards, and
  • primary and secondary PM10 standards.

In addition, EPA proposed revisions to other key aspects related to the PM NAAQS, including revisions to the Air Quality Index (AQI) and monitoring requirements.

SEE https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/proposed-decision-reconsideration-national-ambient-air-quality-standards-particulate

EPA – Ozone Transport Plan: CIBO and Coalition Register Strong Concerns

CIBO is joining with the Midwest Ozone Group (MOG) and other industrial sector trade coalitions to submit formal comments and to register detailed, constructive input on the proposed Regional Ozone Transport Rule. Put simply, we see major flaws and deep problems with this proposal. The larger goal with our response efforts is to be sure that the rulemaking record includes specifics on the flaws, both fundamental and technical – tied into the data, the assumptions, analyses and conclusions of the regulation, which pertain to industrial sources. Be assured that we will certainly share our final comments to you once submitted later this month. We appreciate the help and input on this effort from CIBO members!

Our formal comments address several critical policy concerns and technical issues where our members have deep expertise. The Rule, an ambitious proposal to expand and strengthen the CSAPR interstate emission program, would promulgate Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) requirements under the Clean Air Act for twenty-six identified states, including several Western states as well, tied to interstate transfer affecting the attainment of the 2015 Ozone NAAQS. As outlined by the EPA, the proposal is designed to ensure that states meet their “good neighbor” obligations under the CAA, which directs states to craft state implementation plans, or SIPs to mitigate their “significant contribution” to the problems of downwind states attaining and maintaining NAAQS. This proposed rule includes requirements for certain industrial source categories (non-EGUs) in twenty-three states , with unit – specific emissions limitations beginning in 2026, affecting existing and new units, to help attain interstate ozone reduction goals. EPA has asserted that it has taken this step directed at industrial unit sources based on its evaluation of air quality modeling information, annual emissions and potential controls. The Rule includes seven identified non-EGU source categories covered by the proposed FIP: boilers and other types of emission units in chemical manufacturing, pulp, paper and paperboard mills, iron and steel mills, gas pipelines, glass manufacturing, cement and concrete operations, and oil refining and coal products manufacturing. In addition, unlike the EGU’s, the affected industrial sector units within the 23-state region are not included in the EPA allowance trading program. Allowance trading for the EGUs is designed to enable more cost – effective NOx emission reductions, as well as compliance flexibility.

Until this point, EPA has regulated non-utility boilers under the CSAPR. The data contained in the docket for the proposed rule indicates that only limited emissions reductions can be achieved within the same cost-effectiveness ($/ton) applied to the EGUs. EPA also appears to have overestimated the reductions this proposed rule could achieve overall, while significantly underestimating the costs of compliance. Many industrial sectors, in fact, have experienced significant decreases in NOx emissions in recent years, as facilities have worked to lower energy costs, improve efficiencies, and reduce emissions. In addition, with the implementation of Boiler MACT standards and other NAAQS reductions, many industrial facilities have also indirectly achieved lower NOx reductions, including by way of fuel-switching. This proposed FIP comes as EPA has also acted recently to formally disapprove the Good Neighbor plans of many of the so-called upwind states. Industry sectors are urging EPA to re-orient and apply its regulatory aim to NOX sources geographically closer to downwind monitors. In their general public responses to the proposed rule, industrial sectors have also noted their support for some specific provisions recommended. For example, EPA has asked for submission of public comment on their recommendation to continue to exempt cogeneration units – those that already meet the Acid Rain Program exemption requirements. Past EPA analyses has given clear indications that little additional NOx reductions could be realized by including these units, among other reasons. CIBO will keep you updated on our efforts and further developments.

Proposed “Good Neighbor” Plan – Ozone – NOx Emissions: 25-state Revised CSAPR Trading Program Rule

Feb 28, 2022 EPA – The proposed rule includes NOx emission standards for certain emissions units in identified large industries in 23 states, with an initial compliance date of 2026.  On its list, EPA is proposing new emissions standards for certain new and existing emissions units, including: “High-emitting, large boilers in basic chemical manufacturing, petroleum and coal products manufacturing, and pulp, paper and paperboard mills.”