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Manufacturing is the lifeblood of West Virginia’s economy, which is why it is so baffling that the federal government has proposed stricter regulatory requirements that could hinder our growth.

Years ahead of schedule, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to institute tougher National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for a pollutant called PM2.5 – a particulate matter that is a byproduct of many manufacturing processes. To hear EPA tell it, you would think PM2.5 emissions are on the rise but that is not the case. In fact, nationwide, PM2.5 levels have decreased by 44 percent since 2000.

West Virginia is a manufacturing state. We’re proud of our strong work ethic, abundant natural resources, and how we’ve been able to turn around some very economically fragile regions creating communities with a strong future due to the strength of our manufacturing sector. The Potomac Highlands and part of the Kanawha and Mid-Ohio valleys, particularly, have a significant manufacturing presence that allows us to compete on a global scale.

Manufacturing exports equal jobs, plain and simple. Jobs, and much-needed investment in our communities. Right now, the unemployment rate in West Virginia is 3.9 percent, which is down from 4.1 percent in December. We’ve been holding steady around that level for about a year now, but none of us will forget the perilous months of April, May, and June of 2020 when unemployment levels reached 15.5 percent, 12.2 percent, and 10.4 percent, respectively.

Federal officials know this. Our U.S. Senators and Representatives fight hard for us in Washington, but we all know that it can feel like pushing a boulder up a never-ending hill. The federal government has invested billions of dollars through pandemic-relief and infrastructure bills that helped stem some of the worst economic effects of COVID-19. But environmental regulators want to create roadblocks to economic growth that will undermine this government investment.

The EPA’s proposed NAAQS revision is years ahead of schedule— a schedule that manufacturers rely on to give some level of certainty in how they must either reconfigure their operations or purchase new equipment to meet new regulations. The Trump Administration decided in 2020 to leave the PM2.5 standard unchanged, which meant the next statutory NAAQS review would not occur until 2025. The Biden administration, though, is pushing up the timeline on that work to this year.

We should all demand a healthy environment, but a healthy environment and strong industrial economy shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Anyone claiming that energy and other industries are fighting more stringent regulations so they can pollute at will is just wrong. Our businesses are committed to cleaner air and water as much as they are committed to a stronger workforce and more jobs and opportunities for West Virginians. We cannot, however, support regulations that threaten our economic recovery and our long-term viability. A recent survey from the National Association of Manufacturers shows that 62 percent of manufactures believe that the United States will slide into a recession this year.

We need to give manufacturers regulatory certainty. Efforts to regulate a vital industry out of existence need to stop. I urge the US EPA to stop this unnecessary revision of air standards and let our manufacturers do what they do best: create jobs and grow our economy and develop innovations for a healthy environment.

Rebecca McPhail is the president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association.