EPA's final rule for a new particulate standard is scheduled to be released no later than Sept. 27, 2006 (John Millett, 202-564-7842). Some time in October 2006, the agency is scheduled to release the latest information for a new ozone standard, including exposure analysis, health risk and environmental assessments, and staff recommendations.
Each of these events will be newsy in hundreds of communities across the country, especially those that won't meet the new standards.
The particulate standard has been in the works for many years, and will be released just one year after EPA finalized its plans for implementing the previous standard (see TipSheet of Sept. 28, 2005). So far, the new rule has stirred considerable controversy (see TipSheet of Feb. 1, 2006, for some examples).
As of January 17, 2006, EPA was leaning toward a new 24-hour standard for fine particulates of 35 micrograms per cubic meter, down from 65 now; it was accepting comments on anything from 25 to 65. The preference for the new annual standard was to leave it unchanged at 15, though as low as 12 was under consideration.
At the levels of 35 and 15, it's likely there will be just a small change in the number of counties out of compliance. Any reduction from 35 and 15, even a very small one, would put vastly higher numbers of counties out of compliance. Those counties could suffer economic losses, at least in the short term, due to increased spending for pollution mitigation and possible loss of federal money. However, the local residents likely would be healthier, there would be fewer deaths caused by particulate pollution, and the cleaner environment could draw more people and their money.
On Sept. 13, 2006, the American Lung Association is expected to release a report documenting the health effects linked with four sets of standards, ranging from the current standard (65/15) down to that preferred by health and environmental advocates (25/12). ALA says that, based on studies of a handful of major cities, a standard of 25/12 would lead to rates of premature death about one-sixth what would occur at the expected EPA standard of 35/15. That would translate to thousands of lives nationwide. Data will be at the county, state, and national levels. ALA: Janice Nolen, 202-785-3355 x222.
Health and environmental advocates generally say the scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the lower numbers, and some scientific studies have found that there is no safe level of fine particulates. Many industry and local government representatives argue for higher numbers. Technically, EPA is supposed to consider just the health and environmental issues, not politics and economics, when setting the standard.
There also may be considerable controversy over the new standards for two classes of slightly larger-sized particulates from 2.5 to 10 micrometers in diameter, and greater than 10 micrometers.
Controversy will also be the order of the day when EPA releases its next package of documents on ozone. Staff recommendations so far have been in the range from .07 to .08 parts per million for eight hours, compared to the current standard of .08 ppm (EPA ozone web sites Plain Language Information About Pollutant and National Ambient Air Quality Standards).
The agency's science advisors are recommending something in the range from .055 to .07, according to Clean Air Watch's Frank O'Donnell (202-558-3527). Anything lower than .08 ppm likely will put many additional counties out of compliance (EPA's Ozone Designations). EPA's staff acknowledge that levels as low as .04 ppm can be harmful to some people.
Following the release of the package in October, the agency is scheduled to finalize its proposal by March 2007, and issue a final rule by December 2007.
For a brief history of the jockeying over the ozone standard since 1971, see EPA's Ozone Timeline.