EPA releases details on controversial particulate matter proposal

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on June 29 published in the Federal Register its proposed new National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for fine particulate matter (PM), which would have impacts on everything from highway vehicles to coal-fired power plants.

EPA announced the rule in bare form earlier in June, promising that existing air programs would take care of almost all of what is in this proposed rule.

EPA said in the June 29 Federal Register notice, which covers 167 pages, that it proposes to make revisions to the primary and secondary NAAQS for PM to provide requisite protection of public health and welfare, respectively, and to make corresponding revisions to the data handling conventions for PM and ambient air monitoring, reporting, and network design requirements. The EPA also proposes revisions to the prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) permitting program with respect to the NAAQS revisions.

The EPA measure has provoked strong reactions by both foes and advocates of the standard.

This proposed new rule is just part of a series of “train wreck” regulations from EPA, many of them part of the agency’s “unjustified war on coal,” said Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., at a June 28 hearing on the particulate rule at the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, which he chairs. The subcommittee is part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“Many of these new and proposed measures threaten to impose high costs and job losses,” said Whitfield. “Quite a few are part of EPA’s unjustified war on coal. Each new rule adds to the train wreck of rules coming out of EPA many of which are the result of litigation and settlement agreements, which I believe is not the way major policy decisions should be made. But today, we will discuss the proposed National Ambient Air Quality Standard for fine particulate matter. Specifically, EPA’s proposal calls for ratcheting down the already-stringent annual standard for fine particulate matter set in 2006. The new 2006 standard hasn’t even been fully implemented yet.”

Whitfield said this committee recommended in a recent letter to EPA that the agency consider retention of the current particulate standard, but this suggestion was ignored. “I might add that particulate matter has many natural sources, such as forest fires, windblown dust, volcanoes, and even sea spray,” Whitfield added. “Even EPA admits that background levels can approach the agency’s existing standards, and on occasion exceed them.”

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said in his opening statement for the June 28 hearing: “Today’s hearing continues the 18-month Republican attack on the Clean Air Act, EPA regulations, and the science that informs our understanding of the effects of air pollution. The House Republicans have made this the most anti-environmental House in history.”

EPA proposal makes various changes in particulate programs

EPA said in the June 29 Federal Register notice, which covers 167 pages, that it proposes to make revisions to the primary and secondary NAAQS for PM to provide requisite protection of public health and welfare, respectively, and to make corresponding revisions to the data handling conventions for PM and ambient air monitoring, reporting, and network design requirements. The EPA also proposes revisions to the prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) permitting program with respect to the NAAQS revisions.

“With regard to primary standards for fine particles (generally referring to particles less than or equal to 2.5 micrometers (mm) in diameter, PM2.5), the EPA proposes to revise the annual PM2.5 standard by lowering the level to within a range of 12.0 to 13.0 micrograms per cubic meter (mg/m3), so as to provide increased protection against health effects associated with long- and short-term exposures (including premature mortality, increased hospital admissions and emergency department visits, and development of chronic respiratory disease) and to retain the 24-hour PM2.5 standard,” the agency wrote. “The EPA proposes changes to the Air Quality Index (AQI) for PM2.5 to be consistent with the proposed primary PM2.5 standards. With regard to the primary standard for particles generally less than or equal to 10 mm in diameter (PM10), the EPA proposes to retain the current 24-hour PM10 standard to continue to provide protection against effects associated with short-term exposure to thoracic coarse particles (i.e., PM10-2.5).”

As for the secondary PM standards, the EPA proposes to revise the suite of secondary PM standards by adding a distinct standard for PM2.5 to address PM-related visibility impairment and to retain the current standards generally to address non-visibility welfare effects. The proposed distinct secondary standard would be defined in terms of a PM2.5 visibility index, which would use “speciated” PM2.5 mass concentrations PM2.5 light extinction, translated to the deciview (dv) scale, similar to the Regional Haze Program; a 24-hour averaging time; a 90th percentile form averaged over 3 years; and a level set at one of two options—either 30 dv or 28 dv.

EPA will take comment on these proposed changes until Aug. 31, and will announce dates and locations for public hearings at a later time.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.