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US proposal would tighten soot standards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government proposed stricter standards on soot pollution on Friday that it said would save lives and protect health but would require refineries and heavy industry to invest in new anti-pollution equipment.

Under a court order, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed on its website to tighten annual exposure to fine-particle soot to between 12 and 13 micrograms per cubic meter of air from 15 micrograms.

People most at risk from the pollution are people with heart and lung disease, the elderly and children, the agency said.

Republicans in Congress have fought a suite of EPA air pollution rules this year saying they will add billions of dollars in costs to heavy industries and kill jobs. It has mostly been an uphill battle as Democrats control the Senate.

The Obama administration was forced to act on the standard ahead of the November 6 election after California, New York and nine other states on the coasts had sued the EPA to act.

Howard Feldman, the director of regulation at the industry group the American Petroleum Institute, said the standard could hurt the economy.

“We are concerned that it could come at a significant economic cost and lost investments and limit our ability to produce the energy our nation needs,” he said.

The EPA expects to finalize the proposal by December 14 after a public comment period.

Paul Billings, a vice president at the American Lung Association, a health group that had joined the states on the legal action, said the clean air laws have had strong support from both Democrats and Republicans since 1970.

Republicans believe they could pick up enough seats in the Senate in the election to gain control of the Senate and win battles against the EPA.

But Billings was confident that both parties want strong health laws. “We will work to ensure that whoever is in Congress in the future will understand the health benefits of strong soot standards,” he said.