EPA’s New, Troubling Soot Regulations

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency revealed a proposal to set tougher air quality standards for “soot,” a small-particle pollutant that is emitted from a wide range of sources, from vehicles to factories. The EPA’s move comes after eleven states (New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington), along with environmental groups, sued the agency in 2011. The agency had until last Friday, according to the ruling, to develop new regulations.

The new rules change the current annual exposure limit from 15 micrograms per cubic meter down to 12-13. All in all, the measures intend to eventually reduce the amount of soot in the air by 17 .

Proponents, such as New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, have been quick to ring the alarm about American air quality: “Every day, air pollution from soot risks the health of more than one-third of Americans. . . . These risks are simply unacceptable.”

While this rhetoric may be politically advantageous, the science stands — as National Academy of Science chairman, Dr. Thomas Burke, has put it — “on the rocks.” Many have criticized the EPA for its weak evidence for causation, and its odd decision to disregard hundreds of other studies challenging its conclusion.

“Current EPA science has a pattern. The agency relies on one or two cherry-picked studies which indicate the most adverse health effects at the lowest concentration of the pollutant in question,” Katherine Hartnett White of the Texas Public Policy Foundation told NRO. In regards to the EPA’s recent action, White added, “The EPA cannot resist to make standards stricter and stricter using increasingly weak science. They are falsely scaring the public.”

While the legislation may be addressing nonexistent health concerns, it could have real economic impacts. “The EPA’s proposal could substantially increase costs to states, municipalities, businesses and ultimately consumers without justified benefits,” wrote Howard Feldman of the American Petroleum Institute.

Jeff Holmstead, a senior EPA official in the Bush administration, and now a partner at Bracewell & Giuliani, warned of this problem: “It may not sound like much — lowering the standard from 15 to 13 — but it will mean a lot more regulations in many parts of the country. This won’t be good news for places trying to attract new manufacturing jobs.”

The EPA’s news release is here.

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