Federal Court Rules in Favor of Clean Air


Requires EPA to implement strong soot controls


Paul Cort, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2077


Eitan Bencuya, Sierra Club, (202) 495-3047


John Walke, Natural Resources Defense Council, (202) 289-2406


Mary Havell McGinty, American Lung Association, (202) 715-3459

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today released a ruling requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement stronger requirements to clean up particulate matter, also known as “soot,“ one of the deadliest forms of air pollution.

Particle pollution does not just make people die a few days earlier than they might otherwise—these are deaths that would not have occurred if the air were cleaner.
(Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

Rejecting EPA’s adoption of a weaker approach, the Court ruled that the public health protections in the Clean Air Act require EPA to apply more stringent cleanup requirements in communities with unhealthful particulate matter levels.

The suit was brought by Earthjustice on behalf of American Lung Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air.

“Soot pollution is dangerous to kids, seniors, and people with heart and lung problems, and kills tens of thousands of people each year,” said Paul Cort, the Earthjustice attorney who argued the case. “This ruling will mean much stronger protections against this deadly pollutant.”

Major sources of soot pollution include coal-fired power plants, factories, oil refineries, and diesel engines. The ruling means that more plants will be subject to more protective particulate matter limits in areas that violate health standards. It also will require limits not only on direct emissions of soot, but also on pollutants that transform into particulate matter in the air.

Under the ruling, the most stringent controls will apply to communities that fail to timely attain health standards (within four to six years). Among other things, these areas will have to implement the best available control measures (instead of just reasonably available measures) and achieve pollution cuts of at least five percent per year if they fail to meet standards on time.

“Soot particles are a dangerous mix of toxic metals and chemicals and are released into the air by burning dirty fuels like coal,” said Bruce Nilles, Senior Campaign Director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “Today’s court decision is a strong step toward ensuring our families have clean, breathable air.”

“Few court rulings strike so close to home. This one’s as close as your next breath of air,” said John Walke, senior attorney and Director of NRDC’s Clean Air Program. “Soot kills. Now there will be less of it—in our air, our hearts and our lungs. That means less bronchitis, fewer asthma attacks, fewer heart attacks and fewer strokes. We can thank the court, with every breath we take.”

“Cleaning up particle pollution saves lives,” said Janice Nolen, Assistant Vice President for the American Lung Association. “A few weeks ago, EPA adopted the strongest, most protective standard for fine particles. Today’s decision means that communities around the nation will have better tools to make sure that they can meet that standard and save lives.”

Read the court opinion.

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