Trump administration declines to tighten U.S. soot pollution standard - source

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday will announce it will maintain an air quality standard governing soot pollution for five years rather than tighten it as agency scientists had recommended, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The agency is required to review the National Ambient Air Quality Standards regulation, which sets limits on the concentrations of pollutants like soot from coal-fired power plants and vehicle tailpipes every five years, and has tended to tighten them regularly after scientific review.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will announce the rule, preserving the current soot pollution standard of 12 millionths of a gram per cubic meter of air, at a news briefing alongside Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia, a coal-producing state.

EPA scientists had recommended cutting the standard to 8 millionths of a gram.

Wheeler had signed off on the rule on Friday after a month of review by the White House.

The decision is one of several at the EPA that the outgoing Trump administration is rushing to finalize ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s January inauguration, including one limiting the kinds of scientific data that can be used in policymaking and another making it harder to justify new pollution regulations, the source said.

Environmental groups had wanted the EPA to toughen the soot standards to protect public health.

“Growing scientific evidence is revealing that long-term exposure to fine particles is even more hazardous than we once thought, and today’s standards simply aren’t protective enough,” said Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Al Armendariz, director of federal campaigns at the Sierra Club and a former EPA regional administrator, said low-income, minority communities would “bear the brunt” of the decision but said it expects the incoming administration to set the appropriate standard.