New air pollution rules finally arrive

This picture taken from on board Air Force One shows smog settling down at the valley of Serra Nevada Mountains on August 17, 2010 in Nevada.

Today's a big deadline for the Environmental Protection Agency. It's been ordered by law to finalize air quality standards that have been fought over for years.

Oil, coal and other industries lobbied hard to delay stricter rules on fine particulate matter, also known as soot. Now, the rules are happening, and there will be a cost to industry to filter pollution.

As for the argument that will "kill" jobs? "People can't work it they're dead," says Janice Nolen with the American Lung Association. "They can't work if they're having heart attacks."

Other health risks associated with this type of pollution, like asthma, also reduce worker productivity across the board. She says the rules will reduce illness from pollution, and thus reduce healthcare costs.

John Graham at Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs says it's not great timing, with the economy in recovery. "It's going to make companies a little more reluctant to open new plans or expand them," he says.

But the rules may not improve health as much as expected, or cost companies as much as they thought, says MIT economist Michael Greenstone.

"When regulations get set, it's at the absolute moment we know the least about them," he says.

The Obama administration is trying to change how it weights health benefits against industry costs, Greenstone notes. The next time the EPA starts in on new air quality regulations, the White House wants the agency, for the first time, to go back and see if the existing standards have produced the expected results.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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