PM2.5 increment: Winners and losers

Vol. 45 No. 2

Donald R. van der Vaart and John C. Evans work with the North Carolina Air Quality Permits Section of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The views expressed here are exclusively those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the North Carolina Division of Air Quality.

On October 20, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the final rule establishing an “increment” for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) under the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) air quality permitting program. 75 Fed. Reg. 64,864 (Oct. 20, 2010). The PSD program is a preconstruction permitting program designed to manage industrial growth in clean air areas (i.e., attainment areas). Under the PSD program emission increases are managed through the use of the increment system. Throughout all attainment areas in the country, increased concentrations of a pollutant are restricted to the same “increment” regardless of the area’s current air quality. In the 2010 final rule establishing the increment for PM2.5, EPA selected an increment that has the effect of further restricting economic growth as compared to prior increments for PM (i.e., particulate matter exceeding 2.5 micrometers in diameter). While the numerical increment value is the same throughout the country, because of the complex manner in which increment is calculated, the economic playing field was tilted in favor of some states allowing them more room for economic expansion. This article will explain the reason for this competitive advantage and which states stand to gain from EPA’s increment rule. Finally, the article will explore whether a January 2013 D.C. Circuit Court decision will require EPA to revise the PM2.5 increment and level the economic playing field among the states.


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