The EPA today proposed tougher standards for soot pollution today, in a move required by the courts, which they say 99% of all communities can meet without further action.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced the proposed change on Friday; it would decrease the allowable fine particle pollution, or soot, to a range of between 12 and 13 micrograms per cubic meter of air from the current 15 micrograms. The agency will seek comment and hold hearings before issuing the final standard by Dec. 14.

The proposed standard was praised by health groups who see the change as helping to curb lung diseases, including asthma.

But business groups and Republicans have opposed the toughening, saying that the increased regulation could prove costly and not provide the hoped-for benefits. Republicans have made increased government regulations one of their issues in an election year in which economic issues will be key.

The business/Republican reaction is predictable, but out of control compared to the actual announcement. Under law, the EPA must review standards on air quality, like on soot pollution, every five years. The Obama Administration really tried to delay this until after the election, but 11 states and several groups sued to force new standards. And a federal court ruled in favor of the states, saying that the Administration had to propose new rules. So if the business community has a problem, it’s with those activist judges.

Republicans in the House are mainly criticizing the EPA for not retaining the new standards. But the public health benefits from reducing soot pollution could range as high as $5.9 billion a year. And the EPA added that only six counties in the entire nation would not be able to meet the standards by 2020 without additional action. So this is about as light a touch as you could get when it comes to new standards, at least in terms of costs versus benefits. EPA estimates the total annual costs from as little as $2.9 million to as high as $69 million, making this almost a 1,000:1 benefit/cost ratio.

But you should always expect a crazed reaction to any environmental regulation from the right and their corporate polluter allies. They have convinced themselves that there are no medical negatives from soot pollution, regardless of the evidence. In fact, the House Science Committee found an “expert” from Texas who testified that “some studies even suggest PM (particulate matter in the air) makes you live longer.”

The full press release from the EPA is here. There will be 63 days of public comment and two field hearings, in Sacramento, CA and Philadelphia, PA. We’ll see final standards by mid-December.