It's coming down to the wire!
I am talking about EPA’s decision on particle soot -- the most important EPA decision of the year. EPA is under a court order to decide by September 27, if not sooner.
What will determine the decision – science, or politics?
With that question in mind, here is a quick recap of the background.
Clean Air Watch
Particle soot (or fine particle matter, or pm 2.5 for real wonks) is the deadliest of widespread air pollutants. It has been linked to literally tens of thousands of premature deaths each year. Particle soot comes from coal burning, diesel engines and other smokestack industries.
EPA last revised the standards in 1997 amid furious opposition from big polluter groups and their patrons on Capitol Hill, including Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX). Indeed, industry groups filed lawsuits and delayed the standards for about five years.
But science has marched on. Since 1997, there have been more than 2,000 peer-reviewed studies. Collectively, the studies conclude that the existing standards are not adequate to protect people’s health.
Because of these studies, EPA’s career scientists urged that the existing standards be made tougher. So did EPA’s independent science advisers. So did a long list of medical and health groups. (See more on this, below.) Not to mention environmental groups and numerous state government agencies.
These standards are the heart and lungs of the Clean Air Act. They are designed not only to let the public know what level of pollution in the air is safe to breathe, they also are the basis of all specific pollution cleanup efforts.
Much as we hate a lot of numbers, here’s a quick review of the current standards.
The fine-particle standard has two components – one to limit daily exposure and one to limit annual exposure. The annual standard is 15 micrograms per cubic meter. The daily standard is 65 micrograms per cubic meter. Over time, it has been generally acknowledged that the daily standard is so weak that it has little, if any, impact on the need for areas to initiate pollution cleanup programs.
Also still on the books is a standard to limit exposure to bigger particles (sometimes called “coarse particles” or pm 10.) These standards were set in 1987 (yes, they are almost two decades old and terribly outdated). The annual standard is 50 micrograms per cubic meter; the daily standard is 150.
Who recommended what?
With regard to fine particle soot, EPA’s career scientists put forward two options – either lower the current annual standard to as low as 12. Or Lower the 24-hour standard to as low as 25.
EPA’s independent science advisers recommended the annual standard be lowered to 13 or 14, in conjunction with a daily standard of 30 to 35.
Medical groups, led by the American Medical Association, urged EPA to set the toughest standards under consideration – an annual standard of 12, and a daily standard of 25. (For more on those medical groups, see below.)
Big polluters argued that EPA should not change the current standards. (For more on the polluters, see below.)
Just before last Christmas, EPA proposed no change in the annual fine-particle standard. It did propose a modest lowering of the daily standard, to 35. (Because the existing standard is so lax, this change would have relatively little impact in the real world.)
EPA’s independent science advisers were stunned that the agency had ignored their advice to lower the critical annual standard.
The chair the science advisory panel, Dr. Rogene Henderson of the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (main # 505-348-9400), told NPR “he [EPA Administrator Steve Johnson] is saying that he as one person is more capable of making the correct decision than 20 highly qualified individuals working together who have heard the public.”
Johnson had no coherent answer when asked why he had ignored the agency’s science advisers. He generally has tried to change the subject.
AMONG THE MEDICAL GROUPS THAT HAVE URGED TOUGHER ANNUAL AND DAILY STANDARDS:
American Medical AssociationAmerican Association on Mental RetardationAmerican Cancer SocietyAmerican College of Nurse-MidwivesAmerican Diabetes AssociationAmerican Heart AssociationAmerican Lung AssociationAmerican Nurses AssociationAmerican Public Health Association
American Thoracic SocietyAsthma and Allergy Foundation of AmericaCenter for Children's Health and the Environment,Mount Sinai School of MedicineChildren's Environmental Health NetworkEaster SealsHealth Care Without HarmInstitute for Children's Environmental HealthNational Latina Institute for Reproductive HealthNational Research Center for Women & FamiliesPhysicians for Social ResponsibilityScience and Environmental Health NetworkThe Arc of the United StatesThe Learning Disabilities Association of AmericaTrust for America's Health
POLLUTER GROUPS AND FELLOW TRAVELERS OPPOSED TO TOUGHER STANDARDS
Alliance of Automobile ManufacturersAmerican Chemistry CouncilAmerican Coke and Coal ChemicalsInstituteAmerican Forest & Paper AssociationAmerican Iron and Steel InstituteAPICorn Refiners AssociationCouncil of Industrial Boiler OwnersEdison Electric InstituteEngine Manufacturers AssociationNational Association of ManufacturersNational Cotton CouncilNational Mining AssociationNational Oilseed Processors AssociationNational Petrochemical & RefinersAssociationNational Rural Electric CooperativeAssociationPortland Cement AssociationU.S. Chamber of CommerceUtility Air Regulatory GroupExxonMobilAmerican Road and Transportation Builders AssociationFARM AND RANCH GROUPSThe Fertilizer InstituteUnited Egg ProducersTyson Food (chickens)National Association of Farmer CooperativesAgri Beef Co.South Dakota Farm BureauWyoming Farm Bureau FederationNorth Dakota Stockman’s AssociationIndependent Cattlemen’s Association of TexasNational Cattlemen’s Beef AssociationGeorgia Cotton CommissionNational Council of Farmer CooperativesNational Rural Electric Cooperative AssociationLouisiana Cotton Producers AssociationNational Grain and Feed AssociationWashington Farm BureauNational Corn Growers AssociationAmerican Meat InstituteCOAL COMPANIESPeabody EnergyArch CoalELECTRIC POWER COMPANIES (and allied public power groups)American Public Power AssociationAmerican Electric PowerSouthern CompanyFirst EnergyTXU PowerDuke EnergyDominion PowerAlleghany EnergyDynegyProgress EnergyAES New YorkAllant EnergyArkansas Electric Cooperative CorporationCleco CorporationCity of LakelandCity of TallahasseeDairyland Power CooperativeThe Dayton Power & Light CompanyEntergy Services, Inc.Entergy ArkansasEntergy Gulf StatesEntergy LouisianaEntergy MississippiEntergy New OrleansFlorida Municipal Power AgencyFlorida Power & Light CompanyGainesvile Regional UtiltiesGreat River EnergyHawaiian Electric Company, Inc.JEAKeySpanNevada Power CompanyNRG Energy, Inc.OGEOrlando Utilties CommissionPacific Gas & Electric CompanyPPLReliant Energy, Inc.Tampa Electric CompanyWisconsin Public Service CorporationXcel Energy Inc.Western Business RoundtableNational Association of Home BuildersCorporate Front GroupsAmerican Enterprise InstituteAnnapolis CenterMercatus Center