The US Environmental Protection Agency proposed air-quality updates to its annual standards for particulate matter, also called soot, involving fine particles 2.5 µm or less in diameter (PM 2.5) to a range of 12-13 µg/cu m. The current annual standard is 15 µg/cu m.
An American Petroleum Institute spokesman said more stringent standards could hamper energy investments.
Federal officials will accept public comments for 63 days after the proposed standards are published. The agency will hold a public hearing in Sacramento, Calif., and a public hearing in Philadelphia, Pa. Dates for those hearings have yet to be announced. EPA expects to issue final standards by Dec. 14.
A federal judge in the District of Columbia on May 31 gave EPA a June 14 deadline to issue its proposed rule updating standards for PM. The Clean Air Act requires that EPA review its PM standards every 5 years, and the agency had last revised the standards in 2006.
EPA said 99% of US counties are projected to meet the proposed standards by a 2020 deadline without taking any additional action to reduce emissions.
Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, said only six counties are expected to have problems with compliance by 2020. Two counties are in California and there is one county each in Alabama, Arizona, Michigan, and Montana.
The anticipated nonattainment communities generally involve diesel emissions around ports and construction areas or involve emissions from wood-burning stoves in valleys, McCarthy said.
"We are going to work very hard with those six remaining counties," she said during a conference call with reporters from her office in Washington, DC.
The proposed changes are consistent with the advice from the agency's independent science advisors, EPA said, adding the changes are based upon extensive scientific evidence that includes thousands of studies.
API said EPA failed to include all options to improve air quality and could hamper energy investments. The trade group had called for a more objective review of the science on improving air quality (OGJ Online, June 12, 2012).
Howard Feldman, API director of regulatory and scientific affairs, noted that said air quality continues to improve dramatically under current government standards.
"But EPA's proposal could substantially increase costs to states, municipalities, businesses, and ultimately consumers without justified benefits," Feldman said. "We are concerned that it could come at a significant economic cost and lost investments," limiting energy production.
Feldman said, "EPA based its proposal on a faulty scientific analysis: important scientific data have been ignored and other purported findings have been misinterpreted."
The proposed more stringent rule "would put many regions out of attainment, and companies considering a place to build a plant or refinery could perceive nonattainment as noninvestment," Feldman said.
EPA said its existing daily standards for coarse particles (PM10) and for PM 2.5 would remain unchanged.