EPA’s new soot limits not as tough as its expert panel recommended | TahoeDailyTribune.com

EPA’s new soot limits not as tough as its expert panel recommended

John Heilprin

WASHINGTON (AP) – The government last week announced new limits that could force dozens more counties to reduce how many tiny particles of soot people can breathe safely.

But it rejected tougher standards its own experts recommended that could save more lives.

While the Environmental Protection Agency strengthened the part of its 1997 standards that deals with people’s daily exposure to soot pollution, it left unchanged another part that addresses annual exposure.

Both are for particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers, or one-thirtieth the diameter of a human hair, that lodge in the lungs and blood vessels.

EPA estimated that by 2015, some 52 counties nationwide probably won’t be able to meet its tougher soot pollution standards, which take effect in 60 days. A final determination wouldn’t be made until after three years of air monitoring.

Currently, 208 counties aren’t meeting EPA’s soot standards, mostly the annual measure.

Experts advising the agency had said the science supports tougher standards than EPA selected. Other air pollution experts and advocates complained of political tinkering.

The health-based limits on soot are considered an important part of the Clean Air Act, helping save 15,000 people a year from premature deaths due to heart and lung diseases.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson called them “the most health protective national air standards in U.S. history.”

“Wherever the science gave us a clear picture, we took clear action,” he said. “There was not complete agreement” by the scientific advisory panel.

But 20 of 22 panel members said the EPA should set tougher standards, particularly those measured annually.

The agency said it was tightening its 24-hour standard for fine particles by roughly 50 percent, which it said would deliver health benefits of $9 billion to $75 billion a year. It retained the annual limit for fine particles, and revoked another standard for coarser particles.

The big fight was over the annual standard, which EPA left intact. The advisory panel had strongly urged that it be tightened to levels that could protect thousands more lives and force potentially hundreds of other counties nationally to meet tougher standards.

Bill Becker, executive director of associations representing state and local air-pollution control officials, said EPA’s rule defies the agency’s principle of using the best available science.

“For the first time in its 36-year history, EPA has ignored the recommendations of its independent scientific advisers, as well as agency staff experts, in setting health-based air quality standards,” Becker said.

“This final action will result in thousands of avoidable premature deaths, and thousands of cases of cardiovascular and lung disease throughout the country,” he said.

John Balbus, who directs the health program for the advocacy group Environmental Defense, said the limits will not adequately protect the public because people still will face long-term exposure to soot pollution.

Power plant operators also were unhappy with EPA’s action, said Dan Riedinger, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute.

“We think EPA has jumped the gun by adopting a more stringent standard before the existing standards have been given a chance to work,” Riedinger said. “Our hope, obviously, is that these reductions will provide a real health benefit, though EPA hasn’t adequately made that case.”

On the Net:

EPA: http://www.epa.gov/pmdesignations

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