The Environmental Protection Agency tightened the limit, called the national ambient air quality standards for fine particles, to 12 micrograms per cubic meter for the annual average level of fine particulate matter from the standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter last set in 1997.
“These standards are fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We will save lives and reduce the burden of illness in our communities, and families across the country will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air.”
Right now, 99% of U.S. counties are already in compliance with the new standard, the EPA said. Of the remaining counties that will be out of compliance, or in non-attainment, many of them will be in California, the EPA said. States have until 2018 to submit their plans to meet the new standards and then until 2020 to comply. Moreover, they could ask for an extension until 2025 “depending on the severity of an area’s fine particle pollution problems and the availability of pollution controls,” the EPA said.
[For the record, 1:23 p.m. Dec. 14: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the standards would go into effect in 2018.]
“The East can rely on several national rules targeting coal plants and other sources” to meet the soot standard, said Paul Cort, a lawyer with Earthjustice, an environmental law and advocacy group. California “will not benefit from those rules and will have to attack this problem largely on our own. We will need to get creative especially around the way we think about energy and transportation. We are already on the forefront on these issues, but more will be needed.”