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Spurred by Earthjustice, EPA Issues Limits for Deadly Soot

Just two weeks ago, the Environmental Protection Agency was dithering on a proposal to strengthen protections against an air pollutant that causes tens of thousands of avoidable deaths every year.

Enter Earthjustice attorney, Paul Cort, who on behalf of citizen groups asked a federal judge to order the EPA to get moving. So compelling was the case that the judge ruled in Earthjustice's favor directly from the bench, ordering the EPA to proceed without further delay. This motivated the EPA to settle the remainder of the suit and release a proposal. The agency also committed to release a final standard by Dec. 14, 2012.

Today, the agency released its proposal, and we have Cort's legal action to thank—a prime example of how citizen enforcement of our nation's environmental laws can produce real results for public health and the environment.

Here are the specifics: The EPA proposed tighter limits on soot pollution, a mixture of solid and liquid particles—each 30 times thinner than a strand of your hair—that can penetrate deep into the lungs, causing asthma and heart attacks and tens of thousands of avoidable deaths every year. Soot comes from coal-fired power plants, factories, diesel vehicles and other sources. Because so many of us are exposed to elevated levels of particle pollution, it's hard to find a deadlier air pollutant than soot.

Cort told the Washington Post that today's action is an opening offer. "There's no question that EPA's proposal is going to save lives," he said in an interview.

But despite this long overdue step in the right direction, Cort told me, "the EPA needs to set a stronger final standard to fully protect people from this deadly pollution."

The report Sick of Soot, released last year by Earthjustice, the American Lung Association and Clean Air Task Force, found that a truly strong soot standard could prevent nearly 36,000 premature deaths every year. We'll be pushing hard for such a standard when the public comment period opens up in a few weeks.

Please join us in the push for the strongest soot standards possible, and please share with your friends this important first step in what could be a major victory for public health and the environment.

(Earthjustice represented the American Lung Association and the National Parks Conservation Association in the legal proceedings that led to this proposal.)