The EPA announced Friday a proposed reduction of the allowable annual exposure to industrial soot pollution and will solicit public comment before making a final decision this year. EPA’s proposal would lower the annual PM2.5 limit from an average of 12 µg/m3 (set in 2012) to somewhere between 9 and 10 µg/m3, though EPA Administrator Michael Regan told reporters the EPA is still considering the possibility of setting it as low as 8 or as high as 11 µg/m3. In December of 2020, the Trump administration rejected EPA’s findings that reducing the annual limit to 9 µg/m3 could save between 9,050 and 34,600 lives a year. The Biden EPA indicated on Friday it would not change the daily exposure limit, set in 2006, of 35 µg/m3, despite the agency’s advisory panel of scientists having urged reducing that limit to 25-30 µg/m3.

Soot, known technically as PM2.5 pollution (particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller, a thirtieth the diameter of a human hair) comes from many sources, like coal-burning power plants, diesel engines, and tobacco smoke, and is linked to a wide array of health harms including pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases. Soot pollution pollution is dramatically and systemically worse in communities of color due to historic racist policies like redlining and present-day racism in the siting of polluting industries, and is one of the deadliest air pollutants. NRDC’s Vijay Limaye said “the country deserves a safer standard” as the proposal is “a real improvement for public health,” but  doesn’t go far enough, and “still leaves too many people dying.” (Washington Post $, E&E News, E&E News, AP, New York Times $, The Hill, CNN, The Hill, LA Times $, Utility Dive, Wall Street Journal $, Washington Examiner, The Verge, NPR)