MAC: Mines and Communities

EPA Fine Particle Air Rule Called Gift to Power Industry

Published by MAC on 2005-09-12

EPA Fine Particle Air Rule Called Gift to Power Industry

September 12, 2005

Environmental News Service (ENS)

WASHINGTON, DC - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a new air quality rule proposing the steps that state, local and tribal governments can take to reduce fine particle pollution (PM2.5) in areas that do not meet the EPA's standards.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said, "New clean air rules will reduce pollution from power plants, industrial facilities, and on and off road vehicles and equipment. As these rules take effect over the next decade, EPA projects that air quality will improve across the country, helping to ensure that all Americans can work, exercise and play in cleaner, healthier air."

The proposed rule, known as the PM2.5 Implementation Rule, describes the planning framework and requirements for state, local and tribal governments to consider when developing their plan to reduce air pollution to meet the fine particle pollution standards.

Areas meeting the standard must show how they will ensure that fine particle pollution levels remain below the standards. Reducing fine particle pollution is a critical element of the administration's comprehensive national clean air strategy and will result in deep and sustained reductions in air pollution, Johnson said. The strategy includes EPA's recent Clean Diesel Program to reduce pollution from highway, nonroad and stationary diesel engines, the Clean Air Interstate Rule to reduce pollution from power plants in the eastern United States, and the Clean Air Visibility Rule.

Fine particles, about 1/30th the size of an average human hair, are emitted by power plants and factories burning fossil fuels such as coal, automobiles, and diesel powered vehicles such as buses and trucks.

These fine particles are also formed in the atmosphere when gases such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds - all of which are also products of fuel combustion - are transformed in the air by chemical reactions.

These particles, known as PM2.5 because they are 2.5 micrometers or smaller in size, have been associated with serious health problems including cardiovascular disease, chronic bronchitis and asthma attacks.

EPA issued the PM2.5 standards in 1997 and designated areas as attainment or nonattainment with the standard in December 2004. Nonattainment areas must meet the standards by 2010.

Johnson estimates that meeting these standards will prevent at least 15,000 premature deaths; 75,000 cases of chronic bronchitis; 10,000 hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiovascular disease; hundreds of thousands of occurrences of aggravated asthma; and 3.1 million days when people miss work because they are suffering from symptoms related to particle pollution exposure.

But clean air advocates became suspicious when the EPA issued the 464 page rule proposal late on a Friday afternoon at a time when few people will read it.

Frank O'Donnell of the non-profit Clean Air Watch says he has begun reading it, and soon found that the EPA is proposing to give another break to the electric power industry. EPA is proposing new loopholes that could permit electric power plants in dirty-air areas to avoid tough pollution controls, O'Donnell said.

Under this proposal, power companies would NOT have to install “reasonably available” pollution controls as long as they are located in states that participate in the “cap and trade” program that EPA calls the Clean Air Interstate Rule.

"This is yet another gift to the electric power industry," O'Donnell said, "one that could subject breathers to unnecessarily high levels of fine-particle pollution, which has been linked to premature death and numerous health problems."

Last year, the EPA listed areas of the country out of compliance with the national health standard for fine particle pollution that was set in 1997. This is a companion rule which is supposed to outline for states how they are supposed to meet those standards.

"One glaring loophole," says O'Donnell, is that the EPA is proposing that power plants, EGUs in the jargon of the bureaucracy, would not have to install reasonably available pollution controls if the state in question participates in the regional cap-and-trade program under the Clean Air Interstate Rule.

Installation of reasonably available pollution controls has been a minimal requirement in the past for big sources of pollution located in areas that violate public health standards.

Many states and environmentalists have pointed out that the interstate rule will not be adequate to meet public health standards in many areas.

Under this new proposal, O'Donnell says, a power plant would not necessarily have to be controlled at all, even if it is contributing to local pollution problems.

The rule is found at:

Basic information about the Clean Air Interstate Rule is found at:

The EPA will accept public comment on this proposal for 60 days from the date the notice appears in the Federal Register. For more information, visit:

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