EPA finalizes air pollution standards that critics say will cost jobs and hurt the economy

According to the National Association of Manufacturers, the EPA standards could reduce the GDP by nearly $200 billion and cost as many as 1 million U.S. jobs through 2031.

Published: February 24, 2024 11:31pm

The EPA finalized air pollution standards that create more stringent limits for soot exposure, as it is called. This despite a 42% decrease in the national average over the last 22 years, according to the agency’s own data.

“It’s going to hurt economies. It’s going to hurt manufacturing. It’s a real problem,” Daren Bakst, senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), told Just The News.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA every five years to do a complete review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for six common pollutants, which includes particulate matter.

The NAAQS for particulate matter, sometimes referred to as PM2.5, deal with solid particles and liquid droplets that are a fraction of the width of a human hair and are suspended in the air. These particles are emitted from construction sites, unpaved roads, agriculture fields, smokestacks and fires.

The new standards lowered the fine particulate matter from 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 9 micrograms per cubic meter. That means under the new standards, in one cubic foot of air, there can only be 0.00000026 grams of particulate matter.

According to the EPA, particulate matter can cause premature death in people with heart or lung disease, nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, decreased lung function, and respiratory problems.

The standards, the EPA argues, will help avoid 4,500 premature deaths, 800,000 cases of asthma symptoms, and 290,000 lost workdays — all by 2032. This will save $22 billion to $46 billion in healthcare costs, and cost $590 million to implement.

“The most vulnerable among us are most at risk from exposure to particulate matter, and that’s why it’s so important we take a hard look at these standards that haven’t been updated in nine years,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan, in a statement announcing the initiation of the review.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) disputed the EPA’s figures on cost of compliance. Citing a NAM-commissioned analysis by Oxford Economics, NAM argues the standards could reduce GDP by nearly $200 billion and cost as many as 1 million jobs through 2031.

According to the EPA, 119 counties are currently out of compliance with the standards, many of them in California.

NAM argues that as many as 200 counties will be out of compliance, and those that are marginally in compliance will have to reconsider investments in industry and jobs to avoid falling out of compliance.

A study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated that the standards would put 386 to 569 counties out of compliance with the standards. “From requiring small businesses like restaurants to install costly equipment, homeowners to replace wood fireplaces with natural gas logs, and states to pave unpaved roads, this rule will impact many sectors of our economy,” the report stated.

As much as 30% of all counties in the U.S., the report says, would have to block permitting of manufacturing facilities and new infrastructure projects.

Writing on the CEI blog, Bakst explained that the rules were reviewed in 2020 after an extensive process involving input from the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, and the EPA decided to keep the standards where they were.  

Rather than stick to the five-year timeline set by Congress, right about the time Biden took office, the EPA decided to review the standards that the EPA had retained under the Trump administration.

“This grave mistake will drive investment away from the United States, derail permitting and weaken the economy for all,” Jay Timmons, CEO and president of NAM, said in a statement.

When asked about the potential economic consequences, which critics say will undermine the positive health outcomes of the rules, the EPA said in a statement to Just The News the standards were based on the “best available science and reflect input from the public as well as scientific experts.”

“Scientific evidence shows that long- and short-term exposures to PM2.5 can harm people’s health,” the EPA said in the statement.

This includes health impacts, the EPA said to ,”overburdened communities, including many communities of color and low-income communities throughout the United States.”

Prior to EPA announcing it was initiating a review of the standards, The Washington Post reported, EPA administrator Michael Regan dismissed 40 outside experts from advisory boards, including the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, who were researchers picked under the Trump administration. Critics had complained that the picks were weighted toward regulated industry and they took positions questioning the climate crisis.

The Biden administration, the Post reported, said the move would reestablish scientific integrity across the federal government.

Bakst argued the EPA filled the panel with members that would be more favorable to the administration’s agenda without regard to the scientific merits of their positions. “They got rid of every single person that provides advice on science. It’s got the appearance of gutting and putting your own people on so you can get the feedback you want,” Bakst said.

John Graham, who Trump had appointed to lead the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, told The New York Times that the dismissals were “very sad.”

“Now for the first time in the agency’s 50-year history, we have an administrator interested in scientific advice only from those scientists he has personally appointed,” Graham told the Times.

Bakst added that by pushing up the Congressionally mandated five-year timeline for the reviews, the EPA isn’t allowing for the time needed to do a careful, science-based review of the previous standards and what the economic consequences will be of the new standards.

“Americans are struggling. The economy is not flourishing, and the Biden administration is making things worse, as opposed to taking their time and thinking it through,” Bakst said.

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