In yet another win for the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental protection, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit sided with the government that it acted appropriately in making the health-based standard for soot pollution more restrictive in 2012.
At issue was the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Particulate Matter of 2.5 Microns or less. In 2012, the EPA lowered the standard from 15 micro-curies per year to 12 micro-curies per year based on a preponderance of evidence that these tiny bits of soot can severely impact the heath of those with preexisting breathing conditions, particularly the very young and very old. Particulate matter, or PM, refers to combinations of fine solids, such as dirt, soil dust, pollens, molds, ashes and soot, that are formed in the atmosphere as a byproduct of gaseous combustion from such diverse sources as utility and factory smokestacks, vehicle exhaust, wood burning, mining, construction activity, and agriculture.
According to the EPA, the revised standard would save between $4 billion to $9 billion annually by 2020 because of lower health costs and more productive employees, while costing just between $53 million to $350 million to implement. The vast majority of the country, or 99% of U.S. counties, would meet the revised air standard by the 2020 compliance date without taking additional action beyond what already is required under other clean air laws.
And who disagree? Well the US Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers did, arguing the EPA lacked the scientific evidence to lower the standard.
Fortunately, good judgement prevailed, and once implemented these new regulations will make it a bit easier to breathe.
In Texas, the only county that currently violates this health-based standard is an area of Harris County. While TCEQ argues that this is due mainly to dust and sand from outside the area — including some from as far away as the Sahara — is is clear that local emissions from the port of Houston and from nearby refineries and motor vehicles also contribute to the pollution. Whether or not Harris County is ultimately declared non-compliant there are clearly actions that can be taken locally to lower soot pollution.
Sierra Club will continue to work to clean up the Port of Houston and also attempt to prevent new export terminals for coal and natural gas, which can also contribute to pollution.