LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Although EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced a delay in a review of National Ambient Air Quality standards until after the 2024 presidential election, 32 business groups, including agriculture interests, are already making their voice heard about what the standards should include.
The NAAQ ground-level ozone standards have been a political hot potato for years, especially for ag interests that have said EPA uses the standards to regulate farm dust. The standards have been a headache for farmers and ranchers in some regions of the country, particularly in the Southwest.
Many of those producers have had to work to reduce dust pollution on their farms as part of plans in place in nonattainment areas, areas that are currently not meeting standards.
On Aug. 21, 2023, Regan announced a new review of the standards after the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee recommended changes. According to a timeline presented by EPA in a news release, the new review will not be completed until after the November 2024 election.
In a letter to Regan on Thursday, agriculture and rural interests and other business groups asked EPA to maintain existing NAAQ standards for fine particulate matter.
"Lowering standards further would harm America's ability to revitalize our supply chains and manufacturing, as well as to restore and revitalize our nation's infrastructure," the letter said.
"In addition, the current reconsideration is discretionary and not required by the Clean Air Act as the existing standards were just reviewed in 2020."
The letter was signed by the Agricultural Retailers Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, Corn Refiners Association, the Fertilizer Institute, National Oilseed Processors Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
In 2018, the Trump administration announced intentions to reform the standards. In December 2020, the administration instead left in place changes made by the Obama administration.
In 2015, EPA tightened the ozone standards of particulate matter from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb.
That action was of particular concern to farmers and ranchers who already operate in regions of the country that struggle to meet national ambient air quality standards for ozone.
The changes became a rallying cry for those who believed EPA was taking an overly zealous regulatory approach.
"America's air continues to improve," the groups said to Regan in the letter.
"The business community has worked with EPA and its state partners to lower fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) emissions by 42% since 2001 and is making significant progress even with the steady growth in the U.S. economy, population and energy use. Thanks to innovation and investment, new emissions control technologies and solutions have been widely adopted to improve air quality."
The groups said more than 84% of PM 2.5 emissions come from nonpoint sources including fires and unpaved roads.
The letter said the "larger amounts of particles and gaseous PM 2.5 precursors resulting from the devastating wildfires in Canada and the West are stark reminders of the smothering blanket" of emissions that cause "serious impairment" of air quality.
Because about 20 counties in the U.S. remain out of attainment under the current NAAQ standards, the groups said tightening standards would put "large swaths of the country in non-attainment and permitting gridlock.
"In some areas, even eliminating all emissions from industrial sources, power plants and vehicles would likely not be sufficient to meet the existing PM 2.5 standards, let alone tighter standards," the letter said.
"As the PM 2.5 standards approach background levels, there are fewer tools available for compliance. This is not only an issue for nonattainment areas, but also for adjacent areas as well. The inability to comply with these near-background level standards could lead to consequences such as onerous permitting requirements that would freeze manufacturing and supply chain investments, as well as other unintended consequences."
The groups said lowering the standard could "threaten" nearly 1 million jobs and $200 billion in economic activity.
"The economic impacts are estimated to be high because the headroom between PM 2.5 background levels and lower standards would shrink considerably, making each increment of additional reductions exceedingly more costly to achieve," the letter said.
"Given the progress being made to reduce emissions, and the potential harm that could be caused by lowering standards further, we ask that EPA maintain the existing standards while continuing to support innovation and current emissions reduction efforts."
Read more on DTN:
"Pruitt Targets 'Farm Dust' Regulation," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
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