Public health and environmental groups today filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's April 2007 regulations governing how states must conduct air quality planning to reduce fine particle pollution. Clean air advocates argue that the EPA's requirements are much weaker than those mandated in the Clean Air Act and would allow life-threatening levels of air pollution to continue years longer than legally allowed.
At issue are the rules the states must follow to clean up fine particle air pollution, one of the most widespread outdoor air pollutants and one that the EPA acknowledges kills thousands of people each year. The federal Clean Air Act requires EPA to set national air quality standards but then requires states to adopt the measures and strategies that will be used to ensure polluted areas are cleaned up to meet those standards. The EPA rule outlines the requirements states must meet in adopting these air quality plans to reduce fine particle pollution. The problem with the rule, according to clean air advocates, is that the requirements in EPA's rule do not match those in the Clean Air Act.
"EPA is trying to kill the Clean Air Act with a thousand cuts. This rule follows a now familiar pattern of sidestepping, reinterpreting or just plain ignoring the Clean Air Act in ways that only those steeped in these issues could decipher," said Paul Cort of Earthjustice who is representing the coalition of groups. "The end result, however, is a scheme that allows polluters to keep polluting and clean air to be postponed indefinitely."
"Not only does fine particle pollution shorten lives, but research confirms that breathing particle pollution causes asthma attacks, heart attacks, and strokes, and sends people to the hospital," said Janice Nolen, assistant vice-president for the American Lung Association. "Fine particle pollution from power plants, industrial agriculture operations and other sources poses a significant health threat for some of the most vulnerable people in our community. Children, adolescents, seniors, people with asthma and chronic lung diseases, people with chronic heart disease and diabetics are most at risk."
One of the more egregious decisions is to allow states to avoid placing controls on sources such as mega dairy farms and other industrial agricultural sources that emit ammonia. Ammonia reacts with other pollutants to form fine particles that are harmful to breathe. EPA has nonetheless concluded that states do not need to control or even evaluate the pollution associated with ammonia emissions. "This is a giveaway to Big Agriculture, pure and simple," Cort added.
Advocates also object to EPA's treatment of coal-fired power plants in the eastern U.S. In 2005, EPA adopted a trading scheme to address pollution from these sources. EPA's new rule tells states that their air quality plans should not include more stringent controls on those plants participating in EPA's trading program.
"Under EPA's scheme, a power plant located in a polluted area could have zero pollution controls and EPA would still have the state conclude that nothing more needs to be done. This is just another example of the Bush Administration's willingness to sacrifice public health in order to help its friends in the energy industry," said Erin Chalmers, an attorney for the Sierra Club.
Attorneys from Earthjustice are representing the American Lung Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air in this action.