States Sue Epa Over Fine Particulate Matter Pollution

Attorney General Spitzer today announced a multi-state lawsuit against the federal government for failing to mandate lower levels of disease-causing soot in the air.

The states allege that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ignored overwhelming scientific evidence and the advice of its own experts indicating that microscopic pollution known as fine particulate matter (PM) is responsible for premature death, chronic respiratory disease and asthma attacks, as well as increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

"It is indeed unfortunate that this legal action is necessary to get the EPA to do its job - - protect the environment and the public health," said Spitzer.

Sources of the harmful airborne soot - - particles much smaller than a grain of sand - - include motor vehicle exhaust, power plant and factory emissions, and wood fires.

The federal Clean Air Act requires that the EPA, in consultation with its science experts, every five years review the existing standards for air pollutants such as PM. If new evidence shows that an existing standard is too weak to protect public health, EPA must revise it.

After a recent comprehensive review of the scientific evidence, EPA’s panel of expert scientists recommended that concentrations of fine PM be lowered from the current acceptable level of 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air to13 or 14 micrograms. Such a reduction would prevent thousands of premature deaths annually in the United States, according to EPA’s own science experts’ impact analysis. Yet, EPA chose to ignore the recommendation and maintain the status quo.

Although a reduction of 1 microgram might seem inconsequential, EPA’s own impact analysis states that if the standard were lowered from 15 to 14 micrograms, an additional 1,000 to 11,000 lives would be saved. Other research shows that lowering the acceptable level to 13 micrograms could prevent 24,000 premature deaths per year.

Other scientific bodies, including the World Health Organization, California EPA and a coalition of six American physicians’ organizations have recommended that EPA lower allowable levels of PM to a range of 10-12 micrograms per cubic meter.

By failing to make the standard for fine PM more protective, EPA violated the requirement of the Clean Air Act that the agency set the standard at a level sufficient to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety.

EPA’s decision to maintain the status quo on PM levels is scheduled to take effect today.

The states challenging this rule-making by EPA seek to have a federal court overturn the rule by finding that the agency has failed its Congressional mandate to protect the environment and the public health. Prior to filing this lawsuit, New York and other states petitioned EPA in April 2006 to lower allowable PM limits.

In addition to New York, states joining the lawsuit are: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. Also joining the legal action are the District of Columbia and the South Coast (California) Air Quality Management District.

The lawsuit was filed today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

This case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Mike Myers of the New York Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau with assistance from Chief Scientist Judith Schreiber and Scientist Robert Chinery, under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General Jared Snyder.


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