Breathe easy: New EPA rules on soot will help the nation's lungs
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As conservatives like to say, the Environmental Protection Agency and the rules it writes do no good for the nation and are instead a burden on economic recovery. Back in the real world, Americans can now take a deep breath of relief that the EPA is still in business.
What business is that? It is the business of ensuring that the air we breathe does not corrupt our lungs and the water we drink is fresh and clear. As it happens, the EPA's key role was underscored just this month.
New EPA standards finalized on Dec. 14 target soot particles and force industry, utilities and local governments to reduce this harmful form of pollution which emanates from smokestacks, power plants, diesel exhaust and wood-burning stoves. Basing its action on numerous scientific studies, the EPA set the standard for soot particles at 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The previous standard, set in 1997, was 15 micrograms.
This is good news for Americans concerned about their health. Fine particles of pollution can go deep into the lungs and are linked to a wide range of health problems -- premature death, hearts attacks, strokes, acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma among children. Older people with heart and lung conditions and children are especially at risk from soot pollution.
If anybody still thinks the EPA is being dictatorial, despite the health benefits of its regulations and the expected saving of thousands of lives, consider that the agency was fulfilling a court order. The EPA had been sued and a federal court ruled that the old standard was too weak and needed to be toughened according to the best available evidence.
Sixty-six counties in eight states -- and the Pittsburgh metropolitan area -- do not meet the new standards, but by 2020, with the help of other regulations, only seven counties (all in California) will be out of compliance. The EPA estimates that implementation will cost $53 million to $350 million annually, but the health benefits will total $4 billion to $9 billion a year.
Although industry is complaining that the new standard will destroy jobs, it's a good deal for the nation as a whole. Call it a fresh breath of air.
First Published December 24, 2012 12:00 am