WASHINGTON – The Biden government will rethink federal limits for fine carbon black, one of the most common and deadliest forms of air pollution, to introduce tough new regulations on emissions from power plants, factories and other industrial facilities.
The announcement, made on Thursday by Michael S. Regan, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, comes after the Trump administration refused Last year, tightening pollutant limits, despite warnings from federal scientists and others that doing so could save more than 10,000 lives annually, especially in urban areas.
Recent scientific studies have also linked fine soot pollution to higher death rates from Covid-19. Black and brown communities tend to be particularly exposed to soot and other air pollutants because they are often near highways, power plants, and other industrial facilities.
And the Biden government suggested that the move was part of their strategy to combat environmental justice.
“The most vulnerable among us are most at risk from exposure to particulate matter and that is why it is so important that we look closely at these standards, which have not been updated in nine years,” said Mr Regan in a statement. He said it was important that the new review “reflect the latest scientific and public health data”.
According to the law, the E.P.A. is required every five years to review the latest science and update the carbon black standard. However, legal experts said nothing could stop the Biden government from reviewing and tightening the standard earlier.
Mr Regan said his office would formally review a Trump rule finally passed in December 2020 that refused to peg against the tiny, lung-damaging particles known as PM 2.5.
The E.P.A. said it expects to propose a new draft rule by summer 2022 and publish a final new rule by spring 2023.
Public health advocates welcomed the move. “The E.P.A.’s decision to reconsider inadequate national limits for particulate matter is good news for the country’s lung health,” said Harold Wimmer, chairman of the American Lung Association. “There is an urgent need for stricter standards that reflect what science needs to protect public health.”
Polluting industries are expected to oppose the introduction of a tough new soot pollution rule.
The current Trump rule retains a standard enacted in 2012 during the Obama administration. This rule limited industrial soot particle pollution – each about 1/30 the width of a human hair, but associated with heart attacks, strokes, and premature death – to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. However, the law requires the federal government to review the science associated with these standards every five years.
When E.P.A. Scientists conducted this mandatory review during the Trump administration, many concluded that if the federal government tightened this standard to around nine micrograms per cubic meter, more than 12,000 American lives could be saved annually.
In one Draft 457-page scientific review of the risks associated with maintaining or strengthening the fine soot rule, professional scientists at the E.P.A. It is estimated that the current standard is “linked to 45,000 deaths” annually. The scientists wrote that tightening the rule to nine micrograms per cubic meter would reduce annual deaths by about 27 percent, or 12,150 people per year.
Following the release of this report, numerous industries, including oil and coal companies, automakers, and chemical manufacturers, urged the Trump administration to ignore the results and not tighten the rule.
Douglas Buffington, the assistant attorney general of West Virginia, a heavily coal-dependent state, said at the time the Trump Rule was published that tightening the standard “could have been a big blow to the coal industry.”
Last April, researchers at Harvard did publishes the first nationwide study Association of long-term exposure to PM 2.5 with higher Covid-19 death rates.
Andrew Wheeler, the E.P.A. Administrator during the Trump administration, when announcing the rule, said his decision not to tighten carbon black standards took into account a number of scientific findings.
“It comes after careful consultation with the agency’s independent scientific advisory board and after reviewing over 60,000 public comments,” he said.
However, he said the Harvard study, which didn’t complete its scientific peer review process until November 2020, was too young to consider.
“We looked at this, but it would have been inappropriate to consider,” he said.
The Biden administration’s decision to review air pollution limits is one of a series of reversals it made to Trump-era environmental decisions that in turn reversed actions by the Obama administration. The Trump administration has repealed or weakened more than 100 environmental rules or laws, and relaxed or abolished rules on climate change, clean air, chemical pollution, coal mining, oil drilling, and protecting endangered species.