Clean air advocates are filing suit today to overturn new Bush administration rules that exempt new power plants and factories from meeting clean air standards for soot and other fine particles — pollution linked to thousands of premature deaths annually. The environmental law firm Earthjustice is bringing the court challenge on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club. The groups contend that the rules will let major new coal-fired power plants spew out dangerous levels of soot into communities and parklands across the nation.
“This outgoing favor to industry from the Bush administration will make the air dangerous to breathe,” said Earthjustice attorney Paul Cort. “Protection of clean air standards is the most basic requirement of the Clean Air Act. And we have the technology to clean up this pollution.”
The “new source review” rules, adopted by the Bush administration in May, allow construction of many new power plants and factories without pollution controls adequate to meet health standards for fine particles. The exemption applies to some plants indefinitely, and to others for three years. According to Sierra Club, dozens of new major coal-fired power plants are in the works throughout the nation.
EPA adopted health standards for fine particle pollution in 1997 after studies showed that pre-existing standards for larger “coarse” particles did not adequately protect against premature deaths, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and hospitalizations. The EPA rules challenged today allow new plants to be built if they will meet the old “coarse” particle standards – even if their emissions of fine particle are unsafe.
“There is absolutely no excuse for letting these plants spew out dangerous soot levels more than a decade after standards were set,” said Cort.
The suit is being brought in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Washington. The groups are also filing a separate petition with EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson asking him to withdraw the exemptions.
Fine particle pollution consists of tiny particles of smoke, soot, metals and other chemical compounds emitted from sources like power plants and factories. Scientists say particle pollution, which can travel deep into our lungs, is one of the most toxic forms of air pollution. They estimate that particle pollution is responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths nationwide every year. It is linked to aggravation of respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive lung disease, and pneumonia, and to premature deaths from other causes, such as lung cancer and heart disease.
Read the lawsuit (PDF)