EPA Tightens Air Standard

The EPA lowers the primary annual air quality standard that could lead to restrictions on equipment use and delays in the permitting process and the eventual loss of federal highway funding.

On February 7, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lowered the primary annual air quality standard by 25 percent for fine particulate matter or PM2.5 (from 12 ug/m3 to 9 ug/m3). States and counties now need to evaluate whether they meet the new standard, and if not, set up plans to come into compliance. These plans take years to establish and can place an enormous burden on industry, leading to restrictions on equipment use and delays in the permitting process and the eventual loss of Federal highway funding—and jeopardize close to one million jobs. The potential impact on construction and the supply chain is great even if not immediate, as AGC explained throughout 2023 via individual and coalition comments here and here. At the same time, more than 84 percent of PM2.5 emissions are attributable to non-point sources such as wildfires and unpaved roads.

Currently, 20 counties are not in compliance with the existing 12 ug/m3 standard and EPA expects that number to more than double with the lowered standard. Counties in compliance will not be immune to the impacts as new sources may not be permitted in an effort to ensure the county remains in compliance. This effect will be greater in more arid states where background levels leave very little room to negotiate.

AGC’s comments detailed the potential impacts of EPA’s proposal on construction, including potential construction bans in geographic areas so designated by EPA, which would have a negative effect on employment, gross domestic product, manufacturing shipments, the completion of critical infrastructure projects, and the delivery of important public services. Construction bans coupled with the loss of federal funding could delay the renovation and improvement of public infrastructure, including highway and transit construction projects, and bridge construction and repairs. Public health and welfare projects would also suffer—impeding efforts to deliver clean water or improve the safety of our transportation system.

The construction industry’s ongoing supply chain and energy challenge could be exacerbated by EPA’s proposal. The markets for several key materials used in construction tend to be local, whenever feasible, due to the cost of shipping these materials long distances. If plants have to curtail production or close, then it will impact the availability of local materials, constrain the supply chain, and result in increased emissions (including PM and greenhouse gases) and costs from shipping.

EPA undertook this effort ahead of its normal review schedule of every five years, and the rulemaking is discretionary. At this time, EPA is not changing the current primary and secondary (welfare-based) 24-hour PM2.5 standards, secondary annual PM2.5 standard, and primary and secondary PM10 standards.

For more information, contact Melinda Tomaino at [email protected].

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