The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday tightened airborne fine soot pollution standards for the first time since 1997, in a step Administrator Lisa Jackson said would reduce heart attacks, asthma and other illnesses.
"The updated standards...will do more to safeguard the health and well-being of American families," Jackson told reporters.
EPA said its new annual fine particulate matter standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter will bring health benefits of between $4 billion and $9 billion annually by 2020. Costs are estimated to range between $53 million and $350 million annually.
"The health benefits these standards provide will mean fewer expensive trips to the emergency room and extended hospital stays," Jackson said
She said all but seven counties nationally, all in California, are expected to meet the standard by 2020 because of actions underway to meet current particulate standards and other EPA regulations dating back to the late 1990s.
In the interim, however, as many as 66 counties will not meet the new standard, including 19 that currently meet the older limit.
EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Gina McCarthy cautioned the estimates are based on data through 2011 and that the number of non-attainment counties likely will drop when newer data through 2013 is used to implement the standard.
The final standard represented the low end of the 12-to-13 microgram standard proposed last June, compared to 15 micrograms currently. The standards will primarily affect Clean Air Act regulation of power plants, industrial sources and diesel trains, trucks and buses.
Jeff Holmstead, a Washington-based attorney and power company lobbyist who held the air administrator post at EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush, said that Jackson's relatively low cost estimate depends on how the standard is implemented.
"Normally, a new standard means a rash of new regulations, but EPA claims that virtually every area of the country will meet the new standard without the need for new regulatory requirements. If so, then maybe the new standard won’t cause the type of economic disruption that we’ve seen in the past," he said.
The agency did not change the current 24-hour standard of 35 micrograms set in 2006 and, as it previously proposed, did not change the standard for larger coarse particles.
EPA also dropped proposed new particulate matter standards for haze visibility, on the grounds that the 24-hour standard was sufficient.
EPA retained a plan to require roadside monitors in areas with more than 1 million residents. "We don't want to average away these benefits," Jackson said, referring to methods of calculating compliance that could miss traffic corridors that affect nearby residential areas.
The standards were ordered by a federal court in response to a lawsuit brought by states and environmental groups. It ends six years of wrangling over the issue following EPA's decision in 2006 not to strengthen the standards.
Environmental groups applauded the new standard, but industry and Republican opponents warned they would restrict job growth.