EPA’s Leavitt announces PM 2.5 designations. (Courtesy of EPA)

The Environmental Protection Agency on Dec. 17 said that 225 counties in 20 states and the District of Columbia are failing to comply with federal rules regulating the smallest particles of dust and soot EPA's rule for the first time governs microscopic particulate matter measuring 2.5 micrometers in diameter, or less than a fraction of the width of a human hair.

The states that aren't "in attainment" must issue a final state implementation plan (SIP) by 2008 to show how they will reduce pollution, including emissions from wood-burning stoves, off-road diesel engines and factories.


States that are not in attainment become subject to a "transportation conformity" rule that requires highway construction projects to be coordinated so the dust and emissions from work sites won't affect a locality's ability to comply with the clean air rules. Federal funds for those construction projects also may be withheld until attainment is reached.

In announcing the agency's findings, outgoing EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt also pushed the Bush administration’s second-term environmental priority: more cuts in air pollution. Early in the new year, the White House will make a renewed pitch on Capitol Hill for its controversial "Clear Skies" bill, which seeks to trim emissions from three pollutants. Originally introduced shortly after President Bush took office, the legislation never found enough support in Congress to become law. Mindful that even with a larger Republican majority next year in both the House and Senate the legislation will still be difficult to pass, EPA expects to move on a regulatory approach through a rule that regulates pollution, largely from powerplants, that crosses state lines. The agency also faces a March legal deadline to finalize its rule to regulate mercury emissions for the first time.

The administration intends to take the same measures "for smokestacks as we did for tailpipes," Leavitt said. "We will double the number of powerplants in the country that have scrubbers," he added.

But one environmental group believes the government is under- reporting the number of counties not in compliance. More than 400 counties should have been designated not in attainment, asserts Clear the Air.

With passage of Clear Skies and regulatory steps, "we believe the vast majority of states will come into compliance," Steve Johnson, EPA’s deputy administrator said. Once a state submits its SIP, compliance is expected by 2010. For states with more severe problems, that deadline can be extended to 2015.

To see a breakdown of the states that are and are not in attainment, go to www.epa.gov.