Eleven States Sue U.S. EPA to Force Stricter Soot Standards

NEW YORK, New York, February 14, 2012 (ENS) – Leading a coalition of 11 states, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit Friday to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to revise national air quality standards for soot.

The coalition took legal action after the EPA failed to meet an October 2011 deadline for revising the existing standards, as required by the federal Clean Air Act.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, asks the court to order the EPA to adopt new air pollution standards promptly and by a date certain.

“Clean air is a public right, and standards that protect it are a necessity,” said Schneiderman. “Every day, air pollution, from soot, risks the health of more than one-third of Americans, including our most vulnerable – children, the elderly and the sick. These risks are simply unacceptable. The EPA must take prompt action to reduce pollution now, and safeguard the health of the public and the air we breathe.”

The states joining New York in this legal action are: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Traffic and air pollution on New York’s 2nd Avenue, March 4, 2011 (Photo by Fotis Korkokios)

Soot, also known as fine particulate matter pollution, or PM 2.5, is produced by diesel trucks and buses, power plants and other sources, and is prevalent in New York City and other urban areas.

These tiny particles of soot collect in peoples’ lungs, where they are absorbed into the blood stream. Breathing soot increases the risk of early death, heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits, especially for people with asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Schneiderman cites an EPA estimate that 2,000 people die prematurely every year in the New York City urban area from heart and lung disease related to soot.

The EPA estimates that more than 100 million Americans – one-third of the nation’s population – have special susceptibility to be harmed from soot, including children, senior citizens, and people with lung disease such as asthma; and

According to the American Lung Association, one in 17 Americans live in areas with unhealthy year-round levels of soot, and the ALA ranks New York City among the 25 U.S. cities with the highest levels of pollution.

The federal Clean Air Act requires the EPA every five years to review and, if warranted by advances in public health science, revise the national air quality standards for common air pollutants, including soot.

EPA last revised the national air quality standards in 2006.

New York and 15 other states challenged those standards as lax, alleging that they were adopted against the advice of EPA’s own air pollution experts and the agency’s independent scientific advisors.

In 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with the coalition of states, and ruled that the EPA had not justified its decision to adopt the 2006 standards.

The Court returned the standards back to the agency for reconsideration in light of the Court’s concerns that the standards failed to adequately protect public health.

In response to the court’s remand, the EPA stated that it would revise the soot standards as part of its next five-year review under the statute. However, that statutory deadline, October 17, 2011, passed without the EPA finalizing, or even proposing, revised soot standards.

Because the federal agency failed to act, on November 16, 2011, Attorney General Schneiderman and the states joining him in Friday’s lawsuit sent a 60-day notice to the EPA, stating their intention to sue.

The EPA has not taken action in response to the coalition’s notice, prompting the 11 states to take legal action.

New York and other coalition states also have a petition pending before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals asking that court to order the EPA to revise the soot standards promptly.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.