Today Earthjustice filed a lawsuit asking the Washington D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals to vacate guidance issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that extends weak regulations governing how states must meet national air pollution standards for fine particulate matter. EPA quietly issued the guidance on March 2, 2012 without any official announcement in violation of procedural requirements outlined in the Clean Air Act and Administrative Procedure Act. Earthjustice acted on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Under the Clean Air Act, states with polluted areas that do not meet national air quality standards must put together a plan describing how the area will reduce pollution levels to meet the national standards. In 2007, the Bush administration adopted regulations specifying how states should prepare plans to meet the 1997 national particulate matter standards. Environmental advocates are currently challenging those regulations for failing to comply with the requirements of the Clean Air Act. On March 2, without providing any opportunity for the public to review or comment on the decision, the Obama EPA issued an internal “guidance” memorandum extending the prior regulations to cover state planning requirements for the newer, more protective fine particulate matter standard adopted in 2006.
“The EPA has tried to slip this extension through without any public input, ignoring a clear legal obligation to give citizens a say in the proceedings,” commented Paul Cort, an attorney with the public interest law firm Earthjustice. “The court has yet to decide the legality of the original planning regulations, so we want EPA to withdraw this new guidance until we have regulations that comply with the Clean Air Act.”
John Walke, Director of NRDC’s Clean Air Program agreed: “Soot and smoke in the air we breathe are a serious threat to people and the environment, and it has taken years of hard work to strengthen the air quality standards that all areas of the country must meet. We can’t allow EPA to undermine those standards by adopting implementation regulations that do not comply with the law, and we certainly should not expect EPA to make such important decisions behind closed doors.”
Airborne particulate matter is comprised of tiny particles of smoke, soot, metals and other chemical compounds emitted from sources like power plants, factories, and diesel trucks. These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into lungs, making them one of the most toxic forms of air pollution. Scientific studies show that particulate matter can aggravate respiratory illnesses and cause tens of thousands of premature deaths nationwide every year. Particulate matter is also responsible for much of the haze that clouds many of our cities and parklands.