Tuesday, February 07, 2012

EPA to Congress: yes, people are dying at particle soot levels BELOW the current standard (so why is the Obama administation dragging its feet in setting a new standard?)

An item of possible interest as we explore the “unfinished business” of the Obama administration as it pertains to air pollution control. As you may recall, some of the very glib opponents of coal power plant and other industrial cleanup have complained about some of the EPA-projected benefits of pollution control, especially the “deaths avoided” from reducing fine particle soot levels below the national air quality standards set in 1997 and re-affirmed by the Bush administration in 2006. (Some of you may recall that back then, the EPA science advisers urged a tougher national standard. State, health and environmental groups subsequently sued, and the Bush standard was found arbitrary and capricious.)

The polluter interests prompted this letter to EPA from several prominent members of Congress, led by Rep. Fred “Geez, how conservative do I have to be to appease the right wing?” Upton (R-MI), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee:

http://energycommerce.house.gov/news/PRArticle.aspx?NewsID=9164

The EPA has now responded with the following letter, which makes it crystal clear that the current national fine particle soot standard is far too weak. Indeed, EPA reports that people are dying from breathing particle soot levels that are “significantly below” the arbitrary Bush standard. EPA argues, accurately, that there will be significant health benefits from cleaning up coal power plants, cement plants, etc.

However, this response does raise a pretty big question: why is the Obama administration dragging its feet in updating the obviously outmoded national standard? As you may recall, EPA recently went to court to try to fend off state, health and environmental group efforts to get EPA off the dime. The Obama administration recently told the court that a decision would be put off until 2013 – after the elections. This is a real elephant in the room – or, should I say, donkey?

So is EPA’s decision on new national fine particle soot standards another casualty of election year politics? It’s starting to look that way.

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UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20460

FEB - 3 2012_

OFFICE OF
AIR AND RADIATION


The Honorable Fred Upton
Chairman
Committee on Energy and Commerce U.S. House ofRepresentatives Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

Thank you for your letter of December 14, 2011, to Administrator Lisa Jackson, co-signed by three of your colleagues, requesting additional information regarding the Environmental Protection Agency's estimates of the public health benefits expected to result from regulatory actions. The Administrator has asked me to respond on her behalf.

Your letter raises several questions about our benefits estimates for reducing fine particle pollution. We believe the health improvements achieved by reducing fine particle exposures represent real benefits to real people, and it is appropriate to provide information to decisionmakers and the public about these expected benefits of cleaner air. These estimates are incorporated in Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIAs), which help inform decisionmakers and the public about the potential benefits and costs of our proposed and final rules. The benefits estimates and RIAs are developed and reviewed as part of the normal rulemaking process, including interagency review and public notice and comment. We prepare these estimates for all economically significant rules. Although we strive to make these analyses as complete as possible, there are often many benefits that cannot be quantified, including a number of significant benefits from reducing mercury and other air taxies.

EPA's approach for estimating benefits from reducing fine particle pollution is science-driven. Studies demonstrate an association between premature mortality and fine particle pollution at the lowest levels measured in the relevant studies, levels that are significantly below the NAAQS for fine particles. These studies have not observed a level at which premature mortality effects do not occur. The best scientific evidence, confirmed by independent, Congressionally-mandated expert panels, is that there is no threshold level of fine particle pollution below which health risk reductions are not achieved by reduced exposure. Thus, based on specific advice from scientific peer-review, we project benefits from reducing fine particle pollution below the level of the NAAQS and below the lowest levels measured in the studies.

Using a no-threshold approach to developing our primary benefits estimates for our rules, which was also the approach we took from 1997 to 2006, is warranted by the extensive scientific review reflected in the Integrated Science Assessment on Particulate Matter (PM ISA), the first draft of which was prepared by EPA scientists and technical staff and released in December 2008. All drafts of the PM ISA reflect this conclusion that there is no scientific evidence supporting assumption of a threshold for PM effects.

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risks. The no-threshold approach, and associated projections of benefits, were also specifically reviewed and approved by the Advisory Council on Clean Air Compliance Analysis, another panel of outside experts established by Congress to review EPA studies of the benefits and costs of the Clean Air Act.

Based on the first draft PM ISA released in December 2008, EPA technical staff incorporated the no­ threshold approach in benefits calculations, which were subject to intra- and inter-agency review and public notice and comment. We have followed a no-threshold approach to our primary benefits estimate since then.

Detailed responses to a number of specific questions raised in your letter are addressed in the attachment. We have also provided the key documents cited in this letter on the enclosed disc. Again, the Administrator and I thank you for your letter. If you have further questions, please contact me or your staff may call Josh Lewis in the EPA's Office ofCongressional and Intergovernmental Relations at (202) 564-2095.

Sincerely,




Gina McCarthy
Assistant Administrator

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