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US EPA removes requirement for curbing toxic air pollutants

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reversed a Clinton administration-era policy that required major US sources of hazardous air pollutants, such as arsenic and lead, to maintain pollution control technology throughout the lifetime of their operation.

The agency finalised its 2018 proposal to reverse the 1995 'once in, always in' policy. This enclosed so-called maximum achievable control technology standards for major pollution sources such as industrial plants and refineries for the lifetime of those facilities, even after they reduced emissions. 

The EPA said the change will ease costs for companies without undermining air quality by holding their facilities to less stringent regulatory standards as soon as they have reduced pollution back below a certain limit.

“This action reduces regulatory burden and provides a level of fairness and flexibility for sources that reduce HAP emissions below major source thresholds,” the final rule issued by the EPA declared.

Environmental groups have said the change creates a “loophole” for big industrial plants to pollute more. It will also threaten low-income communities that are often living near such plants.

“The guidance was specifically designed to secure public protection from especially hazardous air pollutants – which in many cases are carcinogenic, or neurotoxic even in very small quantities – in keeping with the requirements of the Clean Air Act,” non-profit organisation the Sierra Club said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Defense Fund has also indicated intentions to sue the EPA after the new rule is signed.

The 1995 rule had resulted in the elimination of 1.7 million tonnes of hazardous air pollution over two decades, according to a 2017 EPA fact sheet.

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