EPA taking steps to clear the air

As conservatives like to say, the Environmental Protection Agency and the rules it writes do no good for the nation and are instead a burden on economic recovery. Back in the real world, Americans can now take a deep breath of relief that the EPA is still in business.

What business is that? It is the business of ensuring that the air we breathe does not corrupt our lungs and the water we drink is fresh and clear. As it happens, the EPA's key role was underscored just last month.

New EPA standards finalized on Dec. 14 target soot particles and force industry, utilities and local governments to reduce this harmful form of pollution which emanates from smokestacks, power plants, diesel exhaust and wood-burning stoves.

Basing its action on numerous scientific studies, the EPA set the standard for soot particles at 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The previous standard, set in 1997, was 15 micrograms.

This is good news for Americans concerned about their health. Fine particles of pollution can go deep into the lungs and are linked to a wide range of health problems -- premature death, hearts attacks, strokes, acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma among children. Older people with heart and lung conditions and children are especially at risk from soot pollution.

If anybody still thinks the EPA is being dictatorial, despite the health benefits of its regulations and the expected saving of thousands of lives, consider that the agency was fulfilling a court order. The EPA had been sued and a federal court ruled that the old standard was too weak and needed to be toughened according to the best available evidence.

Although industry is complaining that the new standard will destroy jobs, it's a good deal for the nation as a whole. Call it a fresh breath of air.

-- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette