U.S. Court of Appeals upholds standard to reduce soot, protect public health

May 9, 2014
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org
(Washington, D.C. – May 9, 2014)  A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today unanimously upheld a clean air standard designed to reduce the soot pollution that leads to serious heart and lung diseases, and designed to improve air quality monitoring that will strengthen clean air protections for major cities. Environmental Defense Fund was a party to this case.    

In an opinion written by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the court rejected legal challenges to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) national health-based standard for particulate matter, more commonly known as soot. The Judges also rejected legal claims against EPA’s important program to locate air quality monitors near highways in major cities.  

The decision in National Association of Manufacturers v. EPA says:

“Here, we can be brief: Petitioners simply have not identified any way in which EPA jumped the rails of reasonableness in examining the science. EPA offered reasoned explanations for how it approached and weighed the evidence, and why the scientific evidence supported revision of the NAAQS.” (page 6 of the decision)

“The national air quality standards for particulate pollution that were affirmed by the court today provide a bedrock scientific foundation to ensure healthier longer lives for our families,” said EDF attorney Peter Zalzal. “Soot is an extremely dangerous, and sometimes deadly, pollutant that causes heart attacks and asthma attacks. The sooner our nation can work together to reduce the amount of particulate pollution in our air, the sooner those afflicted by this dangerous pollutant can breathe easier.”

The U.S. once had an annual standard for particulate matter of 15 micro grams per cubic meter. Then new and compelling scientific evidence showed that particulate matter could harm human health at that level, and even below it.

In December of 2012, EPA strengthened the national annual standard for particulate pollution to 12 micro grams per cubic meter – a health-based level consistent with recommendations of the independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. 

The National Association of Manufacturers, and the Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG) — a coalition of large power companies and coal companies — sued to block these health-based air quality standards. A coalition of health and environmental experts — including the American Lung Association, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club as well as Environmental Defense Fund — defended EPA’s stronger, more protective standard in court. 

This February, Judges Kavanaugh, David Tatel and Janice Rogers Brown of the D.C. Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case. Today all three ruled to uphold the standard.

The stronger, more protective particulate matter standard is just one step EPA has taken recently to reduce dangerous air pollution. The D.C. Court of Appeals upheld anotherthe Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, last month, and the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled in favor of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. 

Full and immediate implementation of the Cross State Air Pollution Rule is one of the single most important measures our nation can take to help address deadly particulate pollution resulting from power plant smokestack emissions, and meet the air quality standards upheld by the court today. 

“Time after time, courts have found that EPA’s clean air standards are solidly based in science and the law,” said Zalzal. “This decision, like the ones before it, will help us ensure longer and healthier lives for all Americans.”

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