WASHINGTON – The US Environmental Protection Agency finalized an update to the agency’s air quality standards for harmful fine particle pollution including soot.

EPA set the annual health standard at 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The agency said that 99 percent of US counties are projected to meet revised health standard without any additional actions by 2020. A federal court ruled the EPA must update the standard based on best available science.

“These standards are fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act. We will save lives and reduce the burden of illness in our communities, and families across the country will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

The existing daily standard for fine particles and the existing standard for coarse particles, which includes dust from farms and other sources, remain unchanged. The particulate matter (PM) health standard for dust from farms and other sources is PM10.

“NCBA is pleased that EPA has decided to retain the current coarse PM standard and did not make a bad situation worse,” said Ashley McDonald, NCBA Deputy Environmental Counsel. “Unfortunately, cattle producers did not get the permanent certainty they were seeking in the form of legislation and will again face a review of this standard within five years. But for today, NCBA is relieved that EPA listened to rural America and realized that further tightening the dust standard would have disastrous effects on America’s agricultural economy.”

McDonald said a tightened PM standard would have been made it impossible for current agricultural operations to demonstrate compliance, subjecting them to federal fines of up to $37,500 per day.

“A stricter PM standard would have an impact that would cause most of cattle country, including the entire Midwest, West and Southwest, to be out of compliance or at the brink,” McDonald said. “For now, 15 mile–per-hour speed limits on dirt roads, paving dirt and gravel roads and a prohibition on harvesting or tilling during the day are not regulatory requirements in most states, but could easily become a reality if EPA continues to regulate farm dust.”