Press: EPA Plans Quick Release Of Implementation Plans For Tighter PM2.5 NAAQS

  • By: AWMA
  • On: 01/02/2024 08:22:02
  • In: Press
  • Comments: 0
EPA is preparing to quickly issue measures for implementing tighter fine particle (PM2.5) limits, should officials as expected tighten the standards within weeks, possibly addressing difficult problems such as how to handle wildfire smoke that industry groups and others warn would undercut efforts to meet new limits.


Inside EPA, DURHAM, NC — 
Speaking Dec. 6 at the annual Air Information Exchange hosted by the Air and Waste Management Association here, Peter Tsirigotis, director of EPA's Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (OAQPS), said that if the agency tightens the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for PM2.5, it aims to issue separate implementation measures “very quickly.”

“Usually there is a lag” between issuance of a new NAAQS and release of the necessary implementation guidance or rules to help states and industry comply, Tsirigotis said, referencing past rounds of NAAQS rules.

“We are trying to lessen the time lag,” he said, by issuing implementation provisions much faster than the agency has done before.

Tsirigotis added that EPA has no set deadline for issuance of the NAAQS rule, but is “going towards” finalizing it “this winter.”

EPA officials have until recently said they anticipate releasing a final rule by the end of the year. But it appears this target may slip into the New Year, as the rule, which is still under White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review, continues to draw significant opposition from congressional Republicans and some Democrats, as well as industry groups, over the potential costs it would impose.

OMB received the final rule Sept. 22 and review typically takes up to 90 days, but for controversial, high-profile rules, the process can often take longer. According to OMB's website, officials are still hosting meetings with stakeholders on the rule until at least Dec. 13, though EPA's just-released Fall Unified Agenda still projects that EPA will finalize the rule by Dec. 31.

States and industry have often complained in the past that when EPA has tightened NAAQS, guidance or rules necessary to help them attain new limits have been too slow to arrive. This can hamper states' preparation of air quality plans to meet new standards, but can also have immediate effects on industry permit applicants, who must comply with new standards very soon after they are adopted.

In the context of the PM2.5 NAAQS, industry groups opposed to tougher standards have warned that high levels of PM2.5 in wildfire smoke could render the new standards difficult or even impossible to meet. They also warn of potentially huge economic damage resulting from new standards, which would increase with their stringency.

Lobbying against the EPA proposal has reached a high intensity, focused on alleged economic harm, and also the fact that tightening the limits now would result from a discretionary reconsideration of the Trump EPA's 2020 decision to leave limits set in 2012 unchanged.

Discretionary Review

Because it is discretionary, critics argue, EPA can consider costs and is under no obligation to complete the review, citing the Obama administration's decision to drop a similar discretionary reconsideration of ozone limits, in favor of a regular five-year statutory review. The agency also this year dropped another discretionary reconsideration of ozone NAAQS, this time citing the need for a fresh scientific review.

But environmentalists say that under the Clean Air Act and Supreme Court precedent, the agency cannot take implementation costs into account when setting NAAQS. Cost and feasibility issues may only be considered at the implementation stage, regardless of whether a tougher NAAQS rule results from a discretionary reconsideration or a mandatory five-year review, they argue.

Further, environmental groups say that industry has greatly overstated the likely costs resulting from many areas of the country entering “nonattainment” status under a tougher NAAQS, and that the large health benefits of stronger standards should not be ignored.

For example, one environmental attorney calls the estimate from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) that the tougher PM rule could “threaten some $162 billion to $197 billion” in current economic activity “absurd on its face.”

“No credible economist would agree that the entire economy in a county or area is threatened by strengthening the annual PM2.5 health standard” to any of the tougher limits under consideration, the source says.

EPA is said to favor an annual health standard set at 9 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3), tougher than the current limit of 12 ug/m3, but weaker than the 8 ug/m3 sought by environmental groups.

One public health advocate adds that the NAM study “follows a similar pattern every time EPA reviews the NAAQS: industry puts out a ‘study' claiming that the economic impacts of stronger standards will be dire. Stronger standards are finalized, the air gets cleaner and the dire predictions don't come true.”

Anyway, cost “can't and shouldn't be a factor in determining the health-based limit on particle pollution -- that question, of how much PM is safe to breathe, is a scientific one,” the advocate says.

EPA projects that strengthening the annual PM2.5 standard could result in significant public health net benefits of as much as $17 billion for a standard level of 10 μg/m3 in 2032 and as much as $43 billion for a standard level of 9 μg/m3 in 2032.

Health advocates, backed by many Democratic House members and some senators, continue to push for an annual limit at 8 ug/m3, and also for a tightening of the 24-hour PM2.5 limit from 35 ug/m3 down to 25ug/m3, the health advocate notes. However, EPA has not proposed to tighten the 24-hour limit.

State Struggles

Meanwhile, states are bracing for a tougher annual limit. In a Dec. 5 presentation to the American Bar Association's Clean Air Conference, Wisconsin air director Gail Good said that at least two areas in the state might struggle to meet a standard set at 9 ug/m3. Once the NAAQS is finalized, states must then designate areas attaining the new standard, or in nonattainment with it, and EPA must concur. States must then craft state implementation plans (SIPs) to deal with any nonattainment issues.

But industrial facilities must in their air permits demonstrate they will not cause NAAQS violations, with the changes applicable from the effective date of the NAAQS -- typically 60 days after finalization, industry sources say.

Good said Wisconsin is now assessing “impacts to permitted facilities, especially those with permits in progress now; preparing for state designation recommendation-related activities;” and “with EPA and regional states, assessing potential impact of 2023 Canadian wildfires.”

In order to avoid new or worsened nonattainment status resulting from wildfire smoke, which is increasingly a national problem in scope, states will need to make use of EPA's “exceptional events” waiver. But “exceptional events” demonstrations can be cumbersome and resource-intensive, state sources say, requiring that EPA further facilitate the process.

This is also envisaged under the Biden administration's broader policy on wildfire that encourages exceptional events waivers not just for wildfires, but for “prescribed fire” used to reduce the likelihood of larger, uncontrolled blazes.

On the ABA conference, Louis Baer, senior director and counsel for the Portland Cement Association, said a tougher PM2.5 rule could “jeopardize many applications for plant upgrades.” EPA should focus on sources such as forest fires, agricultural and road dust, and mobile sources, Baer said. “Plainly, a single wildfire event could negate the efforts of industry to meet the revised standard,” Baer added. -- Stuart Parker (  

Article link online


There have been no comments made on this article. Why not be the first and add your own comment using the form below.

Leave a comment

Commenting is restricted to members only. Please login now to submit a comment.