On Wednesday, the Biden administration unveiled new and stringent air quality standards, emphasizing their crucial role in safeguarding the health of vulnerable communities. However, industrial groups argue that the measure could have devastating effects on the national industry.
This initiative comes as the Democratic administration braces for a potentially tough electoral rematch against former President Donald Trump, who, during his tenure (2017–2021), rolled back dozens of air pollution regulations.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is spearheading the new regulations, targeting fine particulate matter, commonly known as soot, a widespread and deadly pollutant linked to asthma and heart diseases.
Under the new standards, annual average levels of PM2.5 (particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less) should not exceed 9 micrograms per cubic meter, down from the current 12 micrograms per cubic meter and stricter than current and proposed regulations in the European Union (EU).
EPA Chief Michael Regan stated in a press conference, “Today’s action is a critical step in better protecting workers, families, and communities from the dangerous and costly impacts of fine particulate pollution.”
Common sources of fine particulate matter include vehicles, factory chimneys, and fires. These particles also form when gases emitted by car engines, power plants, and industrial processes react with the atmosphere.
The EPA estimates that the new regulations could prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths, save 290,000 lost workdays, and generate up to $46 billion in net health benefits by 2032, the first year states would have to comply with the new standard.
While environmental and health groups praised the government’s announcement, industry groups expressed concerns that the regulations could jeopardize American manufacturing activities. This debate could become a battleground in key states during the 2024 presidential elections, where Biden seeks re-election.
Critics argue that the standards may hinder onshoring, potentially leading to increased manufacturing overseas, which is often less environmentally friendly than production in the United States.
Despite industry opposition, the EPA contends that the majority of the country’s counties, over 99%, will comply with the standards by 2032 due to an overall downward trend in air pollution following previous initiatives. The agency also highlighted that states could exclude exceptional circumstances arising from wildfires in their reported particle levels, a crucial factor as climate change makes wildfire smoke exposure more common.