EPA Drops Dust Standard, Saving Builders Billions
Heeding the advice of scientists and industry groups, the Environmental Protection Agency has decided to drop its proposed daily standards for coarse particulate matter. This is a major win for affordably priced housing and builders, who faced compliance costs under the new standard that could have amounted to billions of dollars per year.
NAHB members and staff submitted extensive comments, spoke at EPA-sponsored public hearings and lobbied hard with Administration officials against the proposed standard — emerging victorious on Sept. 21 when EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson announced the long-awaited decision.
While press attention was focused on the so-called soot standard for fine particulate matter, home builders were concerned about coarse particulates, or dust. The dust from construction sites is the same dust thrown up by a windstorm or a farmer’s tractor, NAHB argued, and does not need additional regulation. With the decision last week, EPA agreed.
The proposed standard would have tightened the threshold of allowed coarse particulate emissions from 150 to 70 micrograms per square meter — a reduction of more than 50%. Worse yet, EPA would have exempted the largest sources of dust emissions — agriculture and mining — leaving home builders and other members of the construction industry to bear the brunt of the rule’s ill effects.
Instead, EPA has decided to keep the daily standard at the rates that it set in 1987, and also revoked the current annual standard of 50 micrograms per cubic meter because — as NAHB asserted in comments submitted in April — there is no scientific evidence that long-term exposure to low levels of dust has any negative impact on health.
NAHB also argued that EPA’s proposal, which would have applied to only suburban and urban locations, was inconsistent with the agency’s statutory obligations to promulgate national standards. NAHB said that there was no rationale for differentiating between urban and rural areas on dust emissions, and that the proposed standard would have preempted state and local authority to devise regionally appropriate implementation plans, compliance strategies and air monitoring programs. EPA withdrew that component of the rule as well.
“The overwhelming evidence made clear that this proposal was a bad idea,” said NAHB President David Pressly. “I’m heartened that we could play such an important role in overturning this coarse particulate standard, which would have added billions of dollars in compliance costs for our nation’s builders. That would have been reflected in new home prices, with no effect on the safety or health of our citizens.”
Great News for Phoenix
Home builders in metropolitan Phoenix already spend between $2,500 and $5,000 per unit on dust control measures, depending on mitigation efforts and the cost of the water used to dampen the site.
“This is great news," said Carl Mulac of Engle Homes in Phoenix. "This would have been an expensive, and utterly useless standard. We built 2,400 homes last year. With a 50% decrease in the amount of dust allowed per day, I can only imagine how much it would have cost to comply.”
The proposal would have affected three of the top 10 housing markets — including Las Vegas and Los Angeles, as well as Phoenix. Based on 2004 building permit totals, it would have hiked compliance costs for 230,000 homes. Even using the lower estimates from Phoenix, it could have cost home builders $5.75 billion per year.
NAHB, the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association and the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona pooled their resources to prevent the proposed rule. Outreach included meetings with EPA’s Johnson and other senior staff, the White House Office of Management and Budget and other trade groups as well as letters of support from Western congressional offices.
“The Las Vegas area home builders follow some of the strictest dust control protocols in the nation,” said Jennifer Lewis, president of the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association. “No doubt the industry’s compliance record has contributed to the Clark Country’s Department of Air Quality and Environmental Management efforts to bring the region into attainment for particulate matter standards.”
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.