From: Dan Rodrish, Associated Press
Published March 9, 2006 12:00 AM

EPA Soot Rules Said Not Strict Enough

PHILADELPHIA — Proposed federal regulations for soot, although stricter than current standards, are not strict enough, dozens of environmental and public-health advocates said Wednesday at a public hearing.


Many speakers said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should adopt the toughest regulations it had considered, or at least the regulations that had been recommended by its own expert clean air scientific advisory committee.


Debbie Shprentz, a technical consultant to the American Lung Association, cited an EPA study of premature deaths attributed to soot _ or "particulate matter," as regulators call it _ in nine major U.S. cities.


Shprentz said current standards result in 4,729 premature deaths per year; the standards the EPA proposes would cut that to 3,697; the standards recommended by the advisory committee 2,368; and the strictest standards considered by the EPA 644.


Many of the speakers described personal experiences with asthma.


Natalie McClosky of Delran, N.J., who has asthma along with three of her six children, said she used to think it was simply a condition that was treated with an inhalator. But she described taking her daughter Erin, now 11, to a doctor some years ago expecting to get a prescription for cough syrup. Instead, she was admitted to a hospital for 24-hour nebulizer treatments.


"Long gone was the fantasy that asthma was no big deal," McClosky said, speaking to the panel next to her husband and children. She described "countless" visits to emergency rooms and doctors' offices for Erin and her other two asthmatic children.


Scott Segal, the director of an industry group called the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, said he was sympathetic to people in situations like that, but said it was unfair to blame, for example, the soot from coal-fired power plants.


Segal said air pollution has dropped dramatically since measurements began in earnest in the 1970s, yet childhood asthma is on the rise. He said the increase in asthma must be caused by something else, such as children spending less time outdoors, where air is cleaner than inside buildings.


Tougher regulations also can have unintended consequences, Segal said. He said if regulations get tough enough, many coal-fired plants will switch to more expensive natural gas. That would not only bring up the price of electricity, he said, but also the additional demand for gas would drive the price up.


"You're making it more expensive for the poor, people living on fixed incomes and the elderly to heat their homes," Segal said, adding that there would be serious public health consequences to people not being able to heat their homes adequately.


Segal described the EPA's proposal as a good compromise between economic and environmental interests, but the American Chemistry Council opposed any changes to the standards. The group noted that state governments enforce EPA mandates and said the EPA should let states focus on bringing plants up to current standards before requiring them to plan for stricter standards and new deadlines.


The EPA held similar hearings Wednesday in Chicago and San Francisco. The agency is continuing to accept written comments but is not planning any more hearings.


John Bachmann, the EPA official who served as chairman of Wednesday's hearing in Philadelphia, said he found it interesting that many of the speakers chided his agency for not following the advice of its expert advisory panel on the maximum level of soot to allow.


He noted that the advisory panel had recommended exempting mining and farm operations, finding a lack of evidence that that type of dust caused health problems. Yet many of the same speakers wanted the EPA to ignore the expert panel's advice on that issue, he said.


Source: Associated Press


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