Coalition of Rhode Island and 10 Other States' Lawsuit Compels EPA to Revise Existing Inadequate Soot Regulations
Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today announced that a settlement was reached between eleven states, including Rhode Island, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that requires the Agency to adopt updated air standards against harmful particulate matter – commonly referred to as "soot" pollution – by December 14, 2012.
Soot and other particulate matter pollution – a by-product of coal-burning power plants in other states and other sources – consists of microscopic particles that trigger a wide range of adverse health effects. Exposure to particulate matter pollution increases respiratory symptoms (asthma attacks) and disease (acute and chronic bronchitis), decreased lung function, and premature deaths in people with heart or lung disease.
"EPA's requirement to update our nation's public health standards for soot pollution by year's end is a major victory for public health in Rhode Island," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "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. I will continue to fight for protections that will ensure the public's basic right to breathe clean, healthy air."
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 the eleven-state coalition brought after EPA failed to timely revise its existing lax standards.
Two weeks ago, on May 31, a federal District Court judge sided with the eleven-state coalition 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.
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 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 eleven-state coalition 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.
Rhode Island and 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, the eleven state coalition sued EPA in February 2012 over the agency's failure to timely revise these critical public health standards.
The eleven state coalition includes California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, 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.