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Post date: June 15 2012

A.G. Schneiderman Announces Settlement Requiring EPA To Update The Nation's Public Health Standards For Soot Air Pollution Before The End Of This Year

Resolution Of Schneiderman-led Lawsuit Compels EPA To Revise Existing Lax Standards For Soot Pollution By December 2012

Soot Standard Update A Win For Over 100 Million Americans Whose Health Is Threatened By This Air Pollution

NEW YORK-- Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his 11-state coalition has reached a settlement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that requires the Agency to adopt updated air standards for harmful particulate matter -- commonly referred to as "soot" pollution -- by December 14, 2012. Today's settlement, contained in a consent decree lodged with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, resolves a February 2012 lawsuit that Attorney General Schneiderman's coalition filed after EPA failed to timely revise its existing lax air standards for soot.

Two weeks ago, a District Court judge sided with states, and ordered EPA to expedite action on proposing new national soot standards. EPA issued its proposed standards yesterday pursuant to court order, and the settlement announced today commits the Agency to a court-enforceable deadline to finalize these standards.

"EPA's commitment to updating our nation's public health standards for soot pollution by year's end is a major victory for public health," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "Every day, soot pollution threatens the health of more than one-third of our nation's population, particularly our most vulnerable – children, the elderly and the sick. With this settlement, the health of over 100 million American will no longer be ignored, and the years of delay in revising our nation's current lax soot standards will end. I will continue to fight for protections that will ensure the public's basic right to breathe clean, healthy air."

Soot and other particulate matter pollution -- a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion by motor vehicles, power generation, industrial facilities, residential fuel burning and other sources -- consists of microscopic particles that trigger a wide range of adverse health effects. EPA has linked exposure to particulate matter pollution with increased respiratory symptoms (asthma attacks) and disease (acute and chronic bronchitis), decreased lung function, and premature deaths in people with heart or lung disease. 

EPA estimates that more than 100 million Americans -- one-third of the nation’s population -- have special susceptibility to be harmed from particulate matter, including children, seniors and people with lung disease such as asthma. EPA calculated in 2010 that exposure to particulate matter pollution at the levels allowed under the current standards could result in roughly 10,000 premature deaths per year in 15 urban areas. EPA also found that up to half of these premature deaths could be averted if lower, more protective air standards under consideration by EPA were adopted.

Today's settlement marks the culmination of a six-year effort by the New York Attorney General's Office to secure soot pollution standards that protect public health -- and particularly, children, the elderly and the sick. The federal Clean Air Act requires EPA every five years to review and, as warranted by advances in public health science, revise the national air quality standards for common air pollutants, including particulate matter. EPA’s adoption of final revised standards sets in motion a time table for states to put in place the air pollution reduction measures necessary to attain the new standards. EPA last revised the national standards for soot pollution in 2006. 

New Yorkand 15 other states challenged those 2006 standards as too lax. In 2009, a federal appeals court agreed with the states, and sent the standards back to EPA for reconsideration in light of the evidence that they failed to adequately protect public health, including preventing irreversible lung damage in children. However, when the next statutory deadline for EPA to decide whether to  revise the soot  standards passed without the Agency proposing, much less finalizing,  revised  standards, Attorney General Schneiderman's state coalition  sued EPA in February 2012  over the agency's failure to timely revise these critical public health standards. 

Attorney General Schneiderman's state coalition includes California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The American Lung Association and National Parks Conservation Association are co-plaintiffs in the case after their related lawsuit was consolidated with the state suit.

On May 31, the presiding judge sided with Attorney General Schneiderman's state coalition and the other co-plaintiffs, ruling that EPA must promptly issue proposed soot pollution standards. On June 6, the Court ordered the Agency to sign the proposed rule by June 14, and the parties then negotiated the settlement lodged with the district court today. 

Attorney General Schneiderman’s commitment to fighting air pollution is a top priority of his administration. For instance:

  • On January 6, 2011, during his first week in office, Attorney General Schneiderman sued the owners of Homer City Station, a Pennsylvania electric power plant that is one of the largest emitters of sulfur dioxide air pollution in the nation, over multiple violations of the federal Clean Air Act.
  • In April 2012, Attorney General Schneiderman led a nine-state coalition in defending EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, a regulation that will limit the interstate transport of air pollution that harms public health and the environment in downwind states such as New York, against a challenge brought in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.
  • Also in April 2012, Attorney General Schneiderman filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington on behalf of 12 states challenging the legality of EPA’s current lax air standards for ozone pollution ("smog"). Although EPA stated in 2009 that it would voluntarily revise those standards in a timely manner, EPA changed course in late 2011 and prior litigation challenging the lax smog standards was reactivated by Attorney General Schneiderman's coalition.

The soot air pollution lawsuit is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Jane C. Cameron and Michael J. Myers of the Attorney General's Environmental Protection Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Lisa M. Burianek and Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Janet Sabel.