EPA seeks to rescind clean-air protections for rural areas

A new Bush administration proposal would strip significant clean-air protections from rural areas. The U.S. EPA would exempt these areas from meeting federal standards for coarse particulate matter — essentially, windblown clouds of dust — and end federal monitoring of particulate levels in those locales. The weakened regulations would have a particularly harsh impact on Western states, where conditions are drier, making blowing dust a greater concern. The EPA claims it’s following the recommendations of its own scientific advisory commission, but some members of that group advised the agency to continue regulating dust in rural areas, and all of them said the feds should continue to monitor particulate levels. The mining industry has predictably praised the administration’s proposal, but air-quality officials are condemning it as an unprecedented bad move. After a public comment period, the rules would become final later this year.