Tighter Air Quality Standards Ahead?

EPA proposes to tighten air quality standards for particulate matter, which could mean government-introduced sanctions for non-compliance, such as caps on development and the loss of federal funding for highway projects.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  has reconsidered the 2020 determination that retained the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for particulate matter (PM) and has proposed to tighten the primary annual PM2.5 standard outside of the normal five-year framework for these changes. AGC closely monitors and weighs in on these rulemakings as they may include stricter requirements and/or restrictions on diesel engines and their use. If an area of the country does not meet the standards, then the federal government can introduce sanctions such as caps on development and the loss of federal funding for highway projects.

States are required to monitor for these pollutants and determine whether geographic areas are in “attainment” for each of the standards. If an area does not meet the standard, then the state will need to develop a plan that demonstrates the steps they will take to achieve compliance. As states struggle to meet ever tightening requirements, AGC is concerned that they will look to smaller sources of emissions such as equipment. States could consider operating restrictions for construction equipment that are currently lawful to operate; requirements to retire or replace older diesel equipment; or mandates (via contract specifications or bid preferences) to retrofit older off-road engines. These types of requirements would devalue a company’s assets and impact the company’s ability to seek work.

If a state is unable to come into compliance with the standards, then EPA can impose federal sanctions that limit development and lead to the loss of federal highway transportation dollars.

EPA has proposed to---

  • Revise the primary annual PM5 standard by lowering the level from 12.0 µg/m3 to within the range of 9.0 to 10.0 µg/m3 while taking comment on alternative annual standard levels down to 8.0 µg/m3 and up to 11.0 µg/m3;
  • Retain the current primary 24-hour PM5 standard (at a level of 35 µg/m3) while taking comment on revising the level as low as 25 µg/m3;
  • Retain the primary 24-hour PM10 standard, without revision; and,
  • Retain the secondary PM standards at this time, while taking comment on revising the level of the secondary 24-hour PM5 standard as low as 25 µg/m3.

Comments on the proposed action are due March 28, 2023. EPA will hold virtual public hearings on Tuesday, February 21, 2023, and Wednesday, February 22, 2023. More information on the hearings can be found here.

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

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