Some 70 industry and trade groups had urged the Biden administration to keep the current standards in place.
The Biden administration has finalized a new national limit for soot, the tiny air pollution particles from tailpipes, smokestacks and wildfires, saying that stricter air quality standards could prevent thousands of premature deaths a year.
The rules revealed on Wednesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would set maximum levels of soot, otherwise known as fine particulate matter air pollution, or PM2.5, at nine micrograms per cubic meter of air—down from 12 micrograms set over a decade ago under the Obama administration.
The EPA administrator, Michael Regan, said the new standards for soot pollution would help prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths and 290,000 lost workdays, saving the country as much as $46 billion in net health benefits in 2032.
“This final air quality standard will save lives and make all people healthier,” Mr. Regan said Wednesday, noting that cleaner air helps prevent serious health problems such as asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death among the most vulnerable populations, including children, older adults and those with heart and lung conditions.
The change was met with a severe outcry from industry groups, who warned that a tougher national air quality standard would only further push American companies to outsource manufacturing jobs overseas to countries with weaker environmental rules.
“This unworkable air rule undermines President Biden’s promise to grow and reshore manufacturing jobs,” the group added. “We are very concerned that many of the modernization projects in the paper and wood products industry and across U.S. manufacturing will no longer be able to move forward.”
According to an interactive map on the AF&PA’s website, the current soot limit of 12 micrograms per square meter is met by almost every county in the United States, with a handful of violators largely located on the Pacific Coast, where wildfire activity is most intensive and widespread.
With a 9-micrograms limit in place, however, the map shows a dramatic increase in the number of U.S. counties that would be in violation of the national standard, to the point that only some counties in the Rocky Mountain region and along the U.S.-Canada border would remain in compliance. This also means that, in most of the counties, companies would then have a harder time getting permits to build new or expand existing industrial plants.
The AF&PA is not the only organization pushing back against the change. Last October, it joined more than 70 other domestic manufacturing and trade groups to urge the Biden administration to keep the soot limit at the current level.
“However, the cost of complying with this regulation would fall predominantly on the private sector. It would hinder the ability of our member companies to create jobs, innovate and invest,” they told the Biden administration.
To back their argument, they cited a May 2023 study conducted by Oxford Economics and commissioned by the National Association of Manufacturers. According to that analysis, the 9-microgram limit would reduce U.S. GDP by some 162.4 billion and cost at least 852,100 American jobs through 2031.
Also among the most affected states are Arizona, Nevada, and Pennsylvania—key swing states where the reelection campaigns of Presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump have been devoting most of their resources ahead of this year’s presidential election.
The Trump EPA, headed by Andrew Wheeler, in 2020 rejected a group of government scientists’ recommendation to adopt a tougher PM2.5 standard, a decision that helped maintain the Trump administration’s pro-industry legacy. The existing standards, Mr. Wheeler argued at that time, have been serving their purpose very well and should better be left untouched.
“Maintaining these important standards will ensure Americans can continue to breathe some of the cleanest air on the planet,” he said.