In response to a court order, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Friday final national air quality standards for harmful fine particle pollution (PM2.5), including soot, setting the annual health standard at 12 micrograms per cubic meter. By 2020, ninety-nine percent of U.S. counties are projected to meet revised health standard without any additional actions According to the EPA the announcement has no effect on the existing daily standard for fine particles or the existing daily standard for coarse particles (PM10), which includes dust from farms and other sources), both of which remain unchanged. “These standards are fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act. We will save lives and reduce the burden of illness in our communities, and families across the country will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Villsack restated the EPA position in a statement also released on Friday, EPA’s final decision today on national clean air standards will have no impact on farm dust from agricultural operations, as they have indicated for more than a year. This common sense approach will result in cleaner air for the American people, while providing greater certainty for those who live and work in rural America. I commend EPA Administrator Jackson for her efforts to reach out to the agricultural community and to make it clear that EPA had no interest in regulating farm dust.”
The National Cattleman’s Beef Association, however, was not as confident about the EPA ruling. In a statement NCBA said, “NCBA is pleased that EPA has decided to retain the current coarse PM standard and did not make a bad situation worse,” said NCBA Deputy Environmental Counsel Ashley McDonald. “Unfortunately, cattle producers did not get the permanent certainty they were seeking in the form of legislation and will again face a review of this standard within five years. But for today, NCBA is relieved that EPA listened to rural America and realized that further tightening the dust standard would have disastrous effects on America’s agricultural economy.” Under the current review of the dust standard, EPA proposed in June of this year to retain the coarse PM standard, and NCBA, state cattlemen’s associations and members submitted comments encouraging EPA to make that proposal final. McDonald made it clear that if the PM standard had been tightened, it would have been virtually impossible for current agricultural operations to demonstrate compliance, subjecting them to fines under the CAA of up to $37,500 per day. “A stricter PM standard would have an impact that would cause most of cattle country, including the entire Midwest, West and Southwest, to be out of compliance or at the brink,” McDonald said. “For now, 15 mile–per-hour speed limits on dirt roads, paving dirt and gravel roads and a prohibition on harvesting or tilling during the day are not regulatory requirements in most states, but could easily become a reality if EPA continues to regulate farm dust.” McDonald added that until legislation is passed by Congress giving cattle producers permanent relief from dust regulations, NCBA will continue to fight EPA’s dust standard.
U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, an outspoken critic of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) attempts to further regulate farm dust, today said the EPA announced that dust standards for farms and rural areas under the Clean Air Act will not be tightened as proposed but will instead remain the same. “I am pleased the EPA made the commonsense decision to leave dust standards unchanged for rural America,” Roberts said. “Whether it is cattle kicking up dust in a feedlot in Larned, Kansas or wheat being harvested on a hot afternoon on the High Plains in June, dust is a naturally-occurring event. It is critical to recognize that no one cares more about maintaining a clean environment than the American farmer and rancher, who know firsthand that clean air and water and healthy soil go hand-in-hand with a healthy economy. Our producers deserve respect and appreciation from the EPA, not costly and redundant regulation.”
According to the EPA release, “Fine particle pollution can penetrate deep into the lungs and has been linked to a wide range of serious health effects, including premature death, heart attacks, and strokes, as well as acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma among children. A federal court ruling required EPA to update the standard based on best available science. Today’s announcement, which meets that requirement, builds on smart steps already taken by EPA to slash dangerous pollution in communities across the country. Thanks to these steps, 99 percent of U.S. counties are projected to meet the standard without any additional action.”
The standard, which was proposed in June and is consistent with the advice from the agency’s independent science advisors, is based on an extensive body of scientific evidence that includes thousands of studies – including many large studies which show negative health impacts at lower levels than previously understood. It also follows extensive consultation with stakeholders, including the public, health organizations, and industry, and after considering more than 230,000 public comments.
By 2030, it is expected that all standards that cut PM2.5 from diesel vehicles and equipment alone will prevent up to 40,000 premature deaths, 32,000 hospital admissions and 4.7 million days of work lost due to illness. Because reductions in fine particle pollution have direct health benefits including decreased mortality rates, fewer incidents of heart attacks, strokes, and childhood asthma, the PM2.5 standards announced today have major economic benefits with comparatively low costs. EPA estimates health benefits of the revised standard to range from $4 billion to over $9 billion per year, with estimated costs of implementation ranging from $53 million to $350 million. While EPA cannot consider costs in selecting a standard under the Clean Air Act, those costs are estimated as part of the careful analysis undertaken for all significant regulations, as required by Executive Order 13563 issued by President Obama in January 2011.
The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review its air quality standards every five years to determine whether the standards should be revised. The law requires the agency to ensure the standards are “requisite to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety” and “requisite to protect the public welfare.” A federal court required EPA to issue final standard by December 14, because the agency did not meet its five-year legal deadline for reviewing the standards.
EPA carefully considered extensive public input as it determined the appropriate final standard to protect public health. The agency held two public hearings and received more than 230,000 written comments before finalizing today’s updated air quality standards.