Federal Court Clears Way for Clean Air


EPA designations of counties not attaining fine particle pollution standard stand


Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 237 

An important court decision today favors clean air and public health, clearing the path for reducing one of the most dangerous types of air pollution, known as PM 2.5, commonly known as fine particle pollution or soot. This decision affects numerous counties in parts of the country that have been designated as being in nonattainment with the fine particle pollution standard. Read the decision.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected virtually all challenges brought by nine cities and counties, 10 power industry groups and three states to the U.S. EPA’s designations of areas violating health standards for soot and other particle pollution.

In 2005, EPA designated 225 counties in all parts of the country as violating air quality standards for PM 2.5, including counties surrounding Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City. Earthjustice, representing Sierra Club, intervened in the lawsuit in support of the EPA designations. See EPA’s map of counties violating the PM 2.5 designation.

“This is a victory for clean air and public health,” said Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Chavez. “People living in some of our nation’s biggest urban areas are forced to breath dirty air that, for some, is literally life-threatening. Today’s decision means that everyone who breathes air in these communities will get protection they deserve under the Clean Air Act.”

EPA approved the new designations January 5, 2005, estimating that compliance with the standards will prevent at least 15,000 premature deaths, 10,000 hospital admissions, 75,000 cases of chronic bronchitis, and millions of days of missed work and restricted activity nationwide every year. Under the Clean Air Act — the nation’s strongest protection against air pollution — EPA is required to identify, periodically review and update air quality standards and areas that are or are not achieving healthy levels. Designating counties in violation of PM 2.5 standards starts the clean up process.

“Here in Cincinnati, instead of carefree summer days, we get hazy days and alerts urging us to curb outdoor activity and, for parents of asthmatics, to have our kids avoid the outdoors,” said Marti Sinclair, Chair of Sierra Club’s Clean Air Team. “People should be able to breath deeply while walking in the park or running on a playground and know that their health is being protected as required by the law.”

EPA based most of the designations on monitoring data from 2001 through 2003. Indiana, Ohio, southern California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia and New Jersey among others have many counties in nonattainment with the PM 2.5 standard. State and county governments brought challenges to the designations, as did a number of power companies and industrial interests.

The court upheld EPA’s designation of all but one of 225 counties — Rockland County, north of New York City.

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