A.G. Schneiderman Files Air Pollution Lawsuit To Protect Public From Breathing Soot

Attorney General Leads A Coalition Of 11 States Responding To EPA's Failure To Comply With Federal Clean Air Act, Adopt Air Quality Standards That Protect Public Health

Under Current Lax Standards, Roughly 2,000 Die Annually In NYC-Area From Heart and Lung Disease Related To Soot

Schneiderman: Clean Air Is A Public Right

 

NEW YORK – Leading a coalition of 11 states, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today filed a lawsuit to compel the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to promptly revise national air quality standards for air pollution involving soot.  The coalition took legal action after the EPA failed to meet an October 2011 deadline for revising the existing lax standards, as required by the federal Clean Air Act. 

Attorney General Schneiderman's lawsuit, filed today in federal district court in Manhattan, asks the Court to order the EPA to adopt new  air pollution standards promptly and by a date certain. 

"Clean air is a public right, and standards that protect it are a necessity," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "Every day, air pollution, from soot, risks the health of more than one-third of Americans, including our most vulnerable – children, the elderly and the sick.  These risks are simply unacceptable. The EPA must take prompt action to reduce pollution now, and safeguard the health of the public and the air we breathe." 

Soot, also known as fine particulate matter pollution or “PM 2.5,” is produced by diesel trucks and buses, power plants and other sources, and is prevalent in New York City and other urban areas.  Tiny particles of soot evade the body’s defense mechanisms and collect deep within peoples’ lungs, where they are absorbed into the blood stream.  Breathing it increases the risk of early death, heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits, especially for people with asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Moreover,

  • EPA estimates that more than 100 million Americans -- one-third of the nation’s population -- have special susceptibility to be harmed from soot, including children, senior citizens, and people with lung disease such as asthma; and 
  • According to the American Lung Association, one in 17 Americans live in areas with unhealthy year-round levels of soot;
  • The American Lung Association ranks New York City among the top 25 U.S. cities with the highest levels of pollution; and
  • Under the current standards, the EPA estimates that approximately 2,000 people die prematurely every year in the New York City urban area from heart and lung disease related to soot.

The federal Clean Air Act requires the EPA every five years to review and, if warranted by advances in public health science, revise the national air quality standards for common air pollutants, including soot. EPA last revised the standards in 2006.  However, New York and 15 other states challenged those standards as lax, and having been adopted against the advice of EPA’s own air pollution experts and the agency’s independent scientific advisors.

In 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with the coalition of states, and ruled that the EPA had not justified its decision to adopt those lax standards.  The Court returned the standards back to the agency for reconsideration in light of the Court’s concerns that the standards failed to adequately  protect public health.

In response to the court’s remand, the EPA stated that it would revise the soot standards as part of its next five-year review under the statute. However, that statutory deadline -- October 17, 2011 -- passed without the EPA finalizing, or even proposing, revised soot standards.  Because the federal agency failed to act on this important public health matter as required by law, on November 16, 2011, Attorney General Schneiderman and the states joining him in today's lawsuit sent a 60-day notice to the EPA, stating their intention to sue over the agency's failure to timely revise the soot air pollution standards. The EPA has not taken action in response to the coalition's notice, leading Schneiderman and his coalition to take today's legal action.  New York and other coalition states also have a petition pending before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals asking that court to order the EPA promptly to revise the soot standards.

The states joining Attorney General Schneiderman in today's action are: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

The lawsuit is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Jane Cameron and Michael Myers, under the supervision of the Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Janet Sabel.

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