Environment and Energy

Stricter EPA air-quality standards could hit steel

Written by Ethan Bernard

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced more stringent air quality standards that could impact domestic steel producers.

“The Biden-Harris administration on Wednesday finalized a significantly stronger air quality standard that will better protect America’s families, workers, and communities from the dangerous and costly health effects of fine particle pollution, also known as soot,” the EPA said in a statement.

The new annual health-based national ambient air quality standard for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) announced on Wednesday will now be 9 micrograms per cubic meter, down from 12 micrograms per cubic meter previously.

The EPA said this action will aid the US economy “by deploying billions of dollars and creating good-paying jobs across the transition to cleaner technologies.”

The agency pointed out that since 2000, PM2.5 concentrations in the outdoor air have fallen by 42% while US GDP jumped by 52% during that time.

Also, EPA claimed the updated standard “will save lives — preventing up to 4,500 premature deaths and 290,000 lost workdays, yielding up to $46 billion in net health benefits in 2032.”

“This final air quality standard will save lives and make all people healthier, especially within America’s most vulnerable and overburdened communities,” EPA administrator Michael Regan said.

Steel groups respond

Trade groups for the steel industry think the new standard could harm American manufacturing and steel in particular.

“This regulatory action threatens successful implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the important clean energy provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act,” said Philip Bell, president of the Steel Manufacturers Association (SMA), in a statement sent to SMU on Wednesday.

Bell said it “will stifle the capital investment that creates jobs, reduces carbon emissions and modernizes manufacturing.”

He added: “It could put as much as 40% of the US population in non-attainment areas, causing manufacturers to abruptly change or curtail operations and cancel new projects. It will make it even more difficult to obtain permits for new factories, facilities, and infrastructure to power economic growth.” 

Kevin Dempsey, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), echoed these concerns in a statement sent to SMU on Wednesday.

“The standard released today will place most of the United States in non-attainment for PM 2.5, regardless of the fact that the majority of PM 2.5 emissions come from natural causes and non-industrial sources,” he pointed out.

SMA agreed, saying that ~84% of PM2.5 emissions in the US come from “fires, road dust, agriculture and other nonpoint sources. Yet the burden of compliance will fall heavily on domestic industry, resulting in unintended consequences.”  

Dempsey noted that the US steel industry is the cleanest in the world, already operating under “some of the most stringent air standards.” Additionally, “all clean energy technologies use steel,” he said.

Commenting on US manufacturing, SMA said the new standard comes despite the fact “that American manufacturers have made historic reductions in emissions and invested millions of dollars in state-of-the-art processes and equipment to continue that trend.”

“We urge the EPA to reconsider this rule before it undoes so much of the progress Americans have made toward economic prosperity and a cleaner environment,” SMA’s Bell said.

Ethan Bernard

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