API: EPA's proposed PM standard update could boost energy costs

Tougher air-quality standards for particulate matter (PM), also called soot, could trigger higher energy prices, one witness testified July 17 during a field hearing in Philadelphia on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to change the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

Howard Feldman, regulatory and scientific affairs director at the American Petroleum Institute, said more stringent PM standards could increase the costs of providing and using energy. In comments released to OGJ before the hearing, Feldman listed no specific cost figures.

Refineries and the upstream industry likely would face higher expenses to fulfill the proposed updates in federal clean air regulations, he said last month (OGJ Online, June 12, 2012).

“Changing the standard should be supported by a clear scientific analysis. The science in this case cannot demonstrate a proven cause-and-effect between levels below the current standard and health consequences,” Feldman said.

Previously, API urged EPA to keep the existing PM 2.5 standard. EPA last revised its PM standards in 2006. The proposed new PM NAAQS address both fine particles (2.5 µm or less in diameter) and inhalable coarse particles (2.5-10 µm). EPA expects to issue final standards by Dec. 14.

EPA is contemplating an annual PM 2.5 standard of 12-13 µg/cu m compared with the existing annual standard of 15 µg/cu m (OGJ Online, June 25, 2012).

Some research links exposure to PM 2.5 levels with increased health risks, but API believes EPA’s own analysis shows the 2.5 standard is more protective than previously believed.

"According to EPA, between 2000 and 2010, concentrations of PM 2.5 fell by 27%. As a result, more than three-fourths of Americans today live in areas where air quality meets today's standards," Feldman said.

Julie Goodman, an epidemiologist and toxicologist at Gradient environmental consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass., also questioned EPA’s rationale for lowing the PM annual standard.

Goodman said she believes EPA failed to use a scientifically appropriate method to update the standard level.

“EPA did not fully consider the evidence that PM health effects have a threshold, meaning that, at low-enough exposure levels, the human body’s natural defense mechanisms can respond without any adverse health effects occurring,” Goodman said.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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