Soon after it was clear that the Republicans controlled the House of Representatives, there was speculation that that we had seen the last effort for the next two years to make headway on President Biden’s climate goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by achieving a 50%-52% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030.

Biden Air Pollution

Traffic moves along 99 south in Fresno, Calif., named the metropolitan area with the worst short-term particle pollution in a 2022 American Lung Association report. The Biden administration is proposing tougher standards for soot from tailpipes, smokestacks, diesel-fueled 18-wheelers and other industrial activity – but it doesn’t go as far as EPA expert advisers recommended. John Walker/The Fresno Bee via AP

However, there are several important actions that the Environmental Protection Agency and the rest of the Biden administration can do to reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. One important move is to ensure that the EPA quickly issues regulations that would affect the power sector – companies that make electricity.

The speed factor is real. Out of the 10 regulations that have to do with companies that make electricity, nine of the 10 are now delayed. These include: carbon standards for new power plants; mercury and air toxics standards; water pollution standards, and the national soot standards. The nation simply cannot afford these additional delays if we’re going to meet Biden’s climate and environmental justice goals.

The EPA is currently working to strengthen the national ambient air quality standard for fine particulate matter, otherwise known as soot. Soot causes up to 200,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, and disproportionately harms communities of color. The EPA sent its proposed rule for interagency review in August, but this rule is now on track to be finalized in March.

Fine particulate matter comes from smokestacks, construction, diesel-fueled 18-wheelers, power plants and other industrial activity. It has a diameter of no more than 2.5 micrometers, one-30th the width of a human hair, and can become embedded in the lungs. It is linked to heart attacks, stroke and respiratory ailments.

The draft rule by the Environmental Protection Agency would tighten the current limit, which has been in place since 2012, by as much as 25%. The administration estimates that it could prevent as many as 4,200 premature deaths annually, as well as 270,000 missed workdays per year, and result in up to $43 billion in net health and economic savings by 2032. Research commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund last year estimated that exposure to this pollutant killed more than 110,000 people annually in the United States, with the death rate three times higher for Black Americans over 65 than for white Americans in the same age group.


Issued Jan. 6, after years of study and strife, the draft rule inches toward tighter regulation of this pollutant tied to tens of thousands of deaths annually, but does not go as far as agency expert advisers recommended. It would cut the current annual exposure limit for soot from 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air to either 9 or 10 micrograms. But the proposal leaves the current daily standard – set in 2006 – unchanged at 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

Last summer in 2022, however, more than 100 other groups urged the EPA to cut both the annual and daily soot limits to the lowest levels recommended by the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, a group of outside experts that urged a cut in the annual exposure limit to between 25 and 30 micrograms. The majority also recommended a reduction in the annual limit to between 8 and 10 micrograms. But at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a senior official called for the existing standards to be left in place.

A decade has passed since the EPA last tightened its exposure standards; the new proposal would overturn a bitterly contested Trump-era decision to leave those limits unchanged.

Two things need to happen. The soot rule needs to be as strong as possible, so that the lives of thousands can be saved. And the EPA and the rest of the Biden administration needs to move quickly with all of the power-sector regulations so that the climate goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by a 50%-52% percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 can be achieved.

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