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EPA’s Unnecessary Air Quality Standards Threaten Delaware Jobs

From: David Stevenson, Special to the USA TODAY Network

The White House is right now deciding whether to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to move ahead with a plan that would place manufacturing growth in jeopardy by tinkering unnecessarily with air quality standards. Delaware jobs are on the line.

More than 70 industrial executives and trade groups are desperately trying to get the White House to put a stop to an unneeded revision proposed by EPA to National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS, for fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5. Currently set at 12 μg/m3, it could be set as low as 8 μg/m3.

Any revision could cause permits for new facilities, power plants, infrastructure and manufacturing to grind to a halt, radically affecting economic growth. According to current projections, New Castle County could fall into “nonattainment” for air quality under the proposed standards, meaning no new manufacturing facilities could be built.

This new policy came about from EPA deciding in June 2021 that it didn’t like the decision made in December 2020, before Biden took office, to keep the standards the same. So, even though the standards weren’t scheduled to be revisited for another five years, the agency stepped in and announced they were taking another crack at it.

EPA couched the irregular decision as a reaction to new science to help save lives (who could possibly be against saving lives?), but it was clearly planned from day one as a backdoor means of curbing “emissions” as part of a climate agenda they’d never get through Congress.

Here’s how. Under the Clean Air Act, several different standards are set for how many particles of various sizes can be present in outdoor air. The idea behind the standards is to set a benchmark against which air quality measurements are compared to get an idea of what humans may be breathing in, with an eye to reducing those levels.

Particles end up in the air in different ways. Forest fires or wood stoves, for example, directly emit particles as a side effect of combustion. Secondary sources let off gases that can form particles in the atmosphere, such as factories, vehicles, or construction sites. Industry experts note that a whopping 84% of PM2.5 emissions in the U.S. come from fires, road dust, agriculture and other uncontrollable sources. Residents of the northeast corridor experienced dramatically reduced air quality this year from Canadian forest fires. Dropping the PM2.5 standard would leave the private sector holding the bag on making up for air quality problems they haven’t caused.

Particulate regulation first began in 1971; the PM2.5 regs kicked off in 1997 at the standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter. In 2012, they were revised downward to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. Then in 2020 after being reevaluated again, they were left unchanged.

EPA’s own data shows that air pollutants have dropped dramatically since 1990. PM2.5 concentrations have declined by 42% since 2000. So EPA’s action to revisit and revise the standard is not only outside the normal timeline for review, indicating political motivations for such meddling, but ultimately a solution in search of a problem.

The agency knew that it couldn’t get these new standards rubber-stamped by the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and Science Advisory Board (SAB) — the committees appointed to offer independent advice on NAAQS. So, Administrator Michael Regan simply fired them in an unprecedented move that prompted an inquiry letter from the ranking members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

“We want to take a close look at ozone,” Regan said in an interview at the time. “We want to take a look at all the NAAQS [National Ambient Air Quality Standards] that we believe are questionable.”

The fix was in. Shortly after getting rid of the members of the committees and restocking with their own applicants, EPA announced that they were revising the PM2.5 standards.

Regan should listen to his own boss. As Biden said in a speech in 2011 while serving as vice president, “We have an expression in our country:  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

America has some of the cleanest air in the world and that quality continues to improve according to EPA’s own data. The White House must put a stop to these politically motivated revisions and give U.S. manufacturing and industry the room to continue to innovate and improve air quality as they are already doing.

David Stevenson is director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Caesar Rodney Institute.