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Environment & Energy Report

EPA Advisers Unable to Agree on Air Pollution Standard

Oct. 25, 2019, 9:05 PM

A group of scientists assembled by the EPA to advise it on air pollution standards couldn’t reach agreement on whether the standards should be tightened or remain the same, a development that may complicate ongoing effort to update them.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee was looking at the current environmental rules for fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5, during a two-day meeting that ended Oct. 25. Four of the committee’s six members believed the current rules are acceptable, while two others believed they should be lowered to better protect public health.

“We don’t have consensus,” Mark W. Frampton, an emeritus medical professor specializing in pulmonary diseases and critical care at the University of Rochester, said Oct. 25 at the meeting in Cary, N.C. He was one of the two who called for lowering the level allowed in the standard.

Chris Frey, an environmental engineering professor at North Carolina State University and the former chairman of the committee, said he thinks the committee will ultimately send EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler a letter outlining that it couldn’t come to any agreement and therefore can’t make any definitive recommendations.

“This is pretty uncommon,” he said of the committee’s split vote. “In every other one of the panels I’ve been on, we’ve reached consensus.”

The EPA said in response to queries that the process wasn’t final and there was no recommendation yet.

Multiyear Process

The Environmental Protection Agency is in the middle of a multiyear process to review its regulations on PM2.5, which is commonly generated by the burning of fossil fuels and natural sources such as forest fires. Its current regulations call for the pollutant to remain below an average of 12 micrograms for every cubic meter of air.

Lowering this level could require states to force businesses to adopt new and potentially costly pollution control measures. The agency’s timeline for completing this review is set to conclude by the end of 2020.

Frey said the level in the standard should be lowered by up to a third to reduce pollution-related illnesses. But he said the EPA has been intervening in the committee’s processes to such a degree in recent years that it’s now unable to do its job.

Frey was a part of a committee subgroup that specifically looked at the PM2.5 issue and was disbanded by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler last year because, Wheeler said at the time, it was moving too slowly in providing recommendations.

Frey is now part of a “shadow” group that continues to look at PM2.5 but is no longer affiliated with the EPA.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Schultz in Washington at dschultz@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com