The mention of soot conjures images of black clouds pouring out of unfiltered cars, or of cities lost in dark fog. At times in our history, soot pollution has helped stain entire ecosystems black, famously causing moths in Britain to change color from white to black to better hide in their environment. These images are well-deserved: soot is dangerous to both humans and the environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency blames soot for tens of thousands of premature deaths and hospitalizations every year in the United States; and according to a new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, a soot component—black carbon—is the second largest contributor to climate change, coming in just behind carbon dioxide.
Given how dangerous this soot pollution is, we are very pleased with a recent ruling by the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The decision overturns an EPA rule permitting the construction of soot-generating power plants, even if they violated clean air standards. A companion rule (also voided by the court) allowed companies to build plant after soot-spewing plant without even measuring air quality prior to their construction. Normally if an area was already suffering from a severe case of soot pollution, a company would have to offset their pollution before obtaining the needed permits for construction, but the EPA had waived this requirement as well. This was especially bad news for the people most at risk from soot pollution: children, the elderly and those with a heart or lung condition. The EPA had placed all of these groups at risk by waiving these important safety measures.
Fortunately with the latest court decision, these rules will not stand. Representing the Sierra Club, Earthjustice successfully challenged the EPA’s right to ignore these critical requirements protecting our air quality. Not only can Americans breathe easier after this decision, but limiting soot pollution can also help to curb climate change. Now is the time for the EPA to step up regulation of soot polluters as the Clean Air Act requires.