New EPA Limits Put Industrial Sector on Notice

February 20, 2024
By Melanie Stern

Worldwide impacts of global warming were “proof in the pudding,” as findings from multiple research sources gave government agencies the green light to institute tighter restrictions on the industrial sector to curb pollutant output.

Between June and September 2023, 98 percent of the global population was exposed to the effects of global warming, according to research by Climate Central, a non-advocacy, non-profit science and news organization.

Humans engender air pollution through raw materials, product manufacturing and consumption: industrial output, fuels and fumes emanating from chemical production, coal-generated power plants, auto emissions, and use of natural gas are leading contributors, stated the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Industrial progress, through government intervention, is set to come clean.

New Ruling

In January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a ruling that calls for a 25 percent tightening of the particle pollution standard — the lowest level to date — acceptable soot pollution levels were reduced from 12 micrograms to 9 micrograms per cubic meter.

The particles, referred to as PM2.5, are measured by micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3), and sized 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller. A concentration of 1 µg/m3 equates to one cubic meter of air containing one microgram (10-6 grams) of pollutant. For comparison, PM-50 is the only visible particulate in this classification. Scientists at the EPA stated estimated annual deaths connected to PM2.5 reached 45,000.

The initial response to the newest stringent guidelines was mixed. Businesses responsible for emitting fine industrial particles will need operational modifications to meet the requirements, increasing manufacturing costs. Estimates from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce indicated that with the new ruling, 569 of U.S counties will be noncompliant, while EPA officials suggested that 59 counties may already exceed the new standard.

Public health groups showed favor for the EPA’s regulatory advancements supporting better human health outcomes. Pollutant particles can cause harm when they enter the lungs and bloodstream, a precursor to asthma and cardiac issues, with long term exposure linked to premature death, the American Lung Association cited.

The Progression of Change

Global and national agencies continue their research on industrial manufacturing and its impact to earth’s carbon footprint; recent findings presented signs of escalation. In 2022, energy combustion and industrial processes grew global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to an all-time high (at that time) of 36.8 gigatons (36,799,999,999 metric tons) or 40,565,056,241 tons, the International Energy Agency reported.

Intent on cutting U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in half by 2030, the EPA put forth two new measures in 2023 calling for a reduction in the use of chemicals linked to climate warming, found in air-conditioners and refrigerators. In addition, the agency mandated limiting use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), affecting both imported and nationally manufactured aerosol products, foams, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment.

Three-and-a half million dollars was allocated by the US Department of Energy to construct four direct air capture facilities enabling the ability to stop CO2 emissions from ever reaching the atmosphere.

Government-led initiatives were followed by private sector environmental alliances. Redmond, Washington technology enterprise Microsoft Corporation and New York finance corporation JPMorgan Chase & Co. began large-scale investments in carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies, Reuters reported.

The Roll Out

The new EPA limits for 2024 are just the beginning in a plan meant to fully realize by 2032, with penalties in place for those in violation thereafter.

Air sampling will be used in the first two years to detect regions not measuring up to the new limits. In response, States with noncompliant areas would have to develop compliance plans and present them to the EPA within 18 months.

The law dictates that the particle pollution standard can be revisited every five years, should new science-backed research indicate the need for more rigorous terms or conditions.

In an election year, the political dynamics could be tricky. Trade groups want to support government programs and the policymakers behind them that bolster big business, while climate-centric practices and new laws enforced can be diametrically opposed to traditional manufacturing operations.

The Top Offenders

Positive impacts anticipated from more stringent U.S. environmental laws may pale in comparison to the carbon-pervasive practices at play elsewhere across the continents.

IQAir, a world air quality ranking database, measured PM2.5 concentrations of particulate matter for the year 2022, per country, in terms of mass per unit volume. New Jersey evidence-based financial evaluation provider Insider Monkey used the dataset to compile a list of the top 30 air polluted countries.

The top three carbon-emitting offenders were Chad, Iraq and Pakistan:

  • Chad, naturally abundant in gold and uranium, is semi-arid, only borders land and actively exports oil, though uncontrolled waste burning and slow to adopt pollution mitigation measures brought the country top spot on the list, with a PM2.5 concentration of 89.7 μg/m3.
  • Iraq emits particulates from oil and gas refineries’ fires, use of generators and inferior electrical infrastructure, which collectively generated an 80.1 μg/m3 annual average PM2.5 concentration.
  • Pakistan has thousands of brick kilns within its borders, burning coal, sending particulates into the atmosphere, along with gas-powered vehicles, industrial pollution and incineration of waste matter led to an annual average PM2.5 concentration of 70.9 μg/m3.

The data list indicated a correlation between the geographic source of pollutant emissions and developing nations.

Emerging Markets’ Role

Reaching world climate resolve requires a more level playing field for all countries. Studies from Brookings Institute research: Keys to Climate Action: How Developing Countries Could Drive Global Success and Local Prosperity and Financing Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in Developing Countries illustrated how emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs) were challenged by global sustainability timelines.

The findings stated the need for “greater international support to tackle growth-enhancing sustainable development strategies. With their growing leverage, developing countries have new opportunities to lean forward with a unified ‘ask’ in global climate and development negotiations.”

The research identified public and private finance as EMDEs’ instigators or barricades to achieving climate reform, with “multilateral development banks (MDBs) having a critical role in leveraging private finance to raise the number of financial flows to the required level.”

(Photo credit: Getty Images/DWalker44)

About the Author

Melanie Stern

About the Author

Melanie Stern is Manager, Communications at Institute for Supply Management®.