EPA today took an important step toward reversing one of the Bush Administration’s “midnight regulations,” announcing a proposed rule that would improve monitoring standards for airborne lead. Under EPA’s new proposal, any establishment that emits lead into the air at a rate of a half a ton per year or more could be required to have a monitoring station.
In a previous post I noted that EPA finalized a rule in late 2008 that only required monitoring at sites with emissions topping 1 ton per year, after a last-minute entreaty from the lead battery industry and some of their accomplices at OMB. EPA had originally proposed a threshold somewhere in the 0.2 to 0.6 tons per year range.
After President Obama took over the White House and put Lisa Jackson in charge of the EPA, several environmental and public health groups petitioned the agency to reconsider the lead monitoring requirements. The newly proposed monitoring requirements are EPA’s response to the petition. Monitoring stations that detect airborne lead are important to EPA because they help the agency determine whether existing emissions controls are keeping lead below the health-based ambient air quality limits set under the Clean Air Act.
Besides lowering the threshold for site-specific lead monitors (which EPA estimates could more than double the number of site-specific monitors), the agency is also proposing a different network of non-site-specific monitors. The non-site-specific monitors are intended to measure typical neighborhood-scale lead concentrations and give EPA the data it needs to study trends in airborne lead concentrations. In the 2008 rule, EPA required monitors in areas with populations of 500,000 or more. In the newly proposed rule, EPA is considering abandoning the simple population-based placement and using instead an existing network of air quality monitors. The NCore Network, as it’s known, measures particulate matter, ozone, and other air pollutants at a neighborhood scale, which would make it useful for EPA’s efforts to better understand how multiple pollutants interact. But the size of the network is smaller than what the 2008 lead rule requires. The NCore network is about 80 sites, while the lead-only network would include about 100 monitors, sited based on census data. Since the NCore network is not sited based on population, many urban areas could get overlooked.
Obviously, there is a trade-off here that EPA is trying to balance. The costs of additional site-specific monitors under the new proposal might be defrayed through the use of the NCore network for other monitors. And these costs are a serious issue for the local air agencies that will be in charge of implementing the new lead monitoring rule during a time of serious budget woes.