The EPA Eliminates a Strong Safeguard Against Industrial Air Pollution

Published Aug 16, 2018

The EPA has eliminated a long-standing air pollution policy, allowing major polluters to be reclassified under a less stringent category.

What happened: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has quietly eliminated a long-standing air pollution policy known as “once in, always in,” essentially allowing major polluters to be reclassified under a less stringent category. The policy stated that if a major source of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), like mining smelters and petrochemical manufacturing, at any point exceeded the threshold levels as established by the Clean Air Act for HAPs, they were required to apply Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT). MACT is the gold standard for reducing emissions of toxics like benzene or perchloroethylene, and it greatly reduces the emissions levels, 70% of time below the federal threshold limits.

Why it matters: Despite this policy having the potential to greatly increase the emissions of toxic air pollutants, it was issued without any opportunity for public comment and with no analyses of public health or air pollution impacts. This upends clean air protections that have been in place for 23 years without a scientific rationale to support the decision. When the EPA carries out science-related policy decisions that are not supported by any scientific evidence, they are undermining the mission of the EPA to regulate hazards like air pollutants using evidence-based approaches. Hazardous air pollutants are known to cause cancer, birth defects, and have adverse effects on the environment. According to the EPA’s own estimates, the policy has reduced industrial toxic pollutants by 1.5 million tons every year since 1990. By eliminating this policy, the EPA is failing to protect the American people from the serious health problems that are caused by toxic air pollution, which will disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color, and are excluding science in the process.

Learn more about how the EPA eliminated this vital rule, which congressional districts will likely see more toxic air pollution, and how communities with low-income or people of color will face the brunt of the health hazards.