The EPA Commits to Clean Air

DC/East Coast residents will finally be able to take their breathing outside

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Anyone who lives in Washington, D.C. and other smog-laden eastern regions may have kept their breathing indoors for the last few days as a result of the high pollution levels. Recent announcements by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signal the agency is doing something about that.

In two moves toward cleaner air, the EPA first agreed to review hazardous air pollution rules for 28 industries—from pesticide production operations to pharmaceutical plants—and also proposed limits for interstate air pollution in 31 eastern states and Washington, D.C. The interstate rule is aimed to slash sulfur dioxide (linked to a number of adverse effects on the respiratory system) and nitrogen oxides (also very harmful to human health). EPA estimates that this rule would avoid annually an estimated 14,000 to 36,000 premature deaths, 21,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 240,000 cases of aggravated asthma and 1.9 million days of missed school and work as a result of reactions to ozone and other air pollutants.

In other words, this is a big deal.

During a media call with reporters, Gina McCarthy—EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation—said today’s announcement "is marking a large and important step in EPA’s effort to protect public health" and that the rule would enable the "Clean Air Act to work as intended."

The agency is using the "good neighbor" provision of the Clean Air Act to reduce interstate pollution—emissions traveling from upwind states to downwind neighbors. These traveling emissions obstruct the ability of states to reach their own emission reductions targets and also endanger the welfare of state residents.

Earthjustice managing attorney David Baron called EPA’s proposal an important move "toward curbing dangerous power plant pollution that travels across state lines" and said that we would "examine this proposal closely to make sure that it provides the clean air safeguards people need."

This rule would replace the 2005 Bush-era Clean Air Interstate Rule, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the EPA to revise in 2008.

The proposal will most likely reach the Federal Register in two weeks and then lead to a 60-day comment period. The EPA will also be holding a public hearing on this rule. Stay tuned for ways you can help affect the outcome of this proposal.

Raviya was a press secretary at Earthjustice in the Washington, D.C. office from 2008 to 2014, working on issues including federal rulemakings, energy efficiency laws and coal ash pollution.