NAM Regulatory Update: EPA Releases Punishing New Air Standard

As part of an effort to bring more information about the regulatory and legal environment facing American manufacturers, NFPA is monitoring the newsfeed of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and will be bringing important updates like this to the attention of NFPA members.


In a move that could have a significant negative impact on manufacturing in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency finalized an update to the federal air quality particulate matter standard.

What’s going on: The EPA announced a significantly stricter National Ambient Air Quality Standard for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), lowering the level from 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 9 micrograms.

The background: America’s air is actually cleaner than ever, due in large part to manufacturers’ commitment to innovation.

In fact, the EPA recently reported that PM2.5 concentrations have declined by 42% since 2000.

Yet, last year, the agency signaled that it was considering lowering the standards even further, to as low as 8 micrograms per cubic meter—and while the NAM and manufacturers spoke out against the move, the EPA moved ahead.

The problem: If enacted, such an aggressive standard would make it far more difficult and costly for manufacturers to operate in the United States.

It would put huge swaths of the country in “nonattainment,” meaning that they would not meet ambient air quality standards. Factories in nonattainment areas would be unable to operate. Permitting would become almost impossible, and economic development would grind to a halt.

A recent NAM-commissioned analysis by Oxford Economics found that a standard at this level could reduce GDP by nearly $200 billion and cost as many as 1 million jobs through 2031.

Our take: “The Biden administration’s new PM2.5 standard takes direct aim at manufacturing investment and job creation in direct contradiction to the president’s stated goal of strengthening manufacturing in communities all across America,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons.

And it will “mak[e] an already gridlocked permitting system further gridlocked” and discourage long-term investments by manufacturers.

Unfair disadvantage, tough choices: It would put the U.S. at a disadvantage with global competitors, too, Timmons added.

“Manufacturers in America will also be hard pressed to make long-term investment plans domestically as our global competitors have set more reasonable goals. The EU standard is currently 25, and a proposal there would be to reach 10 by 2030. The UK has a target of 10 by 2040.”

And it would require state and local officials to make difficult decisions about which critical infrastructure projects in their areas move forward, Timmons continued.

High cost, little impact: What’s more, the tightened rule won’t address the greatest sources of particulate matter, according to NAM partners the American Forest & Paper Association and American Wood Council.

The “EPA’s rule delivers a devastating blow to U.S. manufacturing and the economy while doing nothing to address the largest sources of particulate matter, including wildfire smoke,” they said in a joint statement. “This unworkable air rule undermines President Biden’s promise to grow and reshore manufacturing jobs.”

“This administration has set the PM2.5 NAAQS at near background levels, ensuring permit gridlock for most manufacturing sectors around the country, while failing to address 84% of overall PM2.5 emissions.”

Next steps: The NAM has spoken out repeatedly against this stricter regulation and will continue to call on Congress to reverse it.

The last word: “The U.S. already has some of the strictest air standards in the world, and thanks to manufacturers’ innovation and leadership, some of the cleanest air and best environmental records,” Timmons concluded. “Manufacturers will consider all options to reverse this harmful and unnecessary standard, because it is our duty to stand against policies that hold our country back.”

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