The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Lawsuits Call Air Pollution Standards Deadly, Arbitrary

by Michelle Chen

Dec. 19, 2006 – As the government rolls out new pollution standards this week, critics are charging federal regulators with ignoring science and arbitrarily allowing toxins into the air.

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On Friday, thirteen states, including New York, California, New Mexico, along with Washington, DC, filed a lawsuit in the US appeals court in DC, challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new airborne pollution standards. The plaintiffs seek to have the new standards overturned for violating the EPA’s mandate to safeguard public health under the Clean Air Act.

The American Lung Association, Environmental Defense, and the National Parks Conservation Association, represented by the environmental law firm Earthjustice, have also filed a petition asking the court to review the new standards.

"Millions of Americans will suffer unnecessarily – even face an earlier death – because they breathe this pollution. EPA could have and should have done better," said Janice Nolen, assistant vice president for the American Lung Association, in a press statement announcing the advocacy groups’ lawsuit.

In September, the EPA finalized national guidelines for regulating dust, soot and similar "particulate" contaminants. But the final rule fell far short of what advocates had said was necessary to protect communities from growing pollution threats. The revised standards are scheduled to go into effect this week.

Generated by industrial and other human activities, such as factory production and driving cars, particle pollution is linked to heart conditions and respiratory illnesses. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review its standards every five years using new scientific data.

The EPA revised guidelines, in place since 1997, for both "coarse" and "fine" airborne particles.

The Agency revoked annual limits for coarse-particle pollution – from construction, mining and other sources – that people can be exposed to within a year, while leaving controls on 24-hour exposure intact. For fine particles, the EPA slightly lowered the amount that people can be exposed to over a 24-hour period, while leaving in place previous regulations for annual exposure.

In comments filed in April during the rulemaking process, the American Lung Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups argued that the standards contradict scientific evidence. Experts with various scientific and medical organizations, including the EPA’s own Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, have recommended that the EPA tighten its air pollution regulations, especially for fine particles, far beyond current standards.

Pointing to the EPA’s own limited data on mortality rates in nine US cities, the groups decried the new short-term fine-particle rule as "unlawful and arbitrary." According to their analysis, while the new EPA guidelines for fine-particle pollution would reduce premature mortality by an estimated 22 percent annually, implementing the American Lung Association’s recommended standards would lead to an 86-percent decrease in avoidable deaths.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


Michelle Chen is a staff journalist.

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