EPA Proposed Rule Leaves Trump-Era Air Toxics Loophole in Place 

The proposed rule fails communities by allowing polluters to dodge requirements to control and monitor the most toxic pollutants 


Zahra Ahmad, Earthjustice, zahmad@earthjustice.org, (517) 898-0924

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday proposed a rule that would make only limited changes to a Trump-era environmental rollback that let major sources of hazardous air pollution get out of control.

The proposed rule aims to end a loophole introduced during the Trump administration. This loophole allows industry to avoid nearly all obligations related to controlling or monitoring emissions by categorizing themselves as “area sources,” a classification that typically comes with minimal to no regulations for emission controls.

“EPA seeks comment on whether it needs additional safeguards to prevent the Trump-era loophole from allowing sources to dump dioxins, mercury, and other highly toxic pollutants onto neighboring communities,” said Earthjustice Director of Clean Air Practice James Pew. “The answer is yes. Protecting people from these pollutants is not just necessary but fundamental to EPA’s job, and we will work to make EPA understand this in the coming months.”

“Major sources” of hazardous air pollutants must reduce all their toxic pollution by the “maximum” degree that is “achievable.” They also must monitor their emissions and report them to EPA and the public, which makes them accountable when their emissions are too high. Most “area sources” on the other hand don’t have to monitor or report their emissions or even get a permit that the public can review. Reclassifying sources from “major” to “area” almost always means reclassifying them from sources that must control and monitor their emissions to sources that don’t.

A “major source” is one that has the potential to emit at least 10 tons per year of any single hazardous air pollutant or 25 tons per year of any combination. Hazardous air pollutants like mercury and dioxins, however, are toxic in tiny quantities less than 1 gram. By ditching protective air toxics standards that require all hazardous air pollutants to be reduced by the maximum achievable degree for a 10 or 25-ton-per-year cap on total aggregate emissions, EPA gives sources a free pass to emit these highly toxic pollutants without any limits, controls, or accountability.

EPA’s proposed rule establishes some limits on the harm communities will suffer because of the Trump-era rollback of air toxics protections, but they are insufficient. It still allows polluters to dodge control and monitoring requirements for mercury, dioxins, chromium VI, PCBs, and other extremely dangerous pollutants.

Quotes from our clients and partners:

“With the justly urgent focus on climate, we still can’t afford to let standards lapse on reducing toxic pollution,” said Melissa English, deputy director of Ohio Citizen Action. “EPA’s actions today are an encouraging sign their eye is still on the ball, but the agency must do more to protect people from toxic air pollutants like mercury, chromium, and more.”

“This rule allows industry backsliding on dangerous air toxic pollutants and does not do enough to reverse the Trump rollback of important protections which have been in place for decades at EPA,” said Jane Williams, executive director of the California Communities Against Toxics. “With this action, EPA’s has failed to set federally enforceable, health-protective limits on highly toxic chemicals like lead, arsenic, dioxin, and PCBs from smokestacks across the nation. This failure will have devastating impacts in environmental justice communities.”

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