NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a multistate lawsuit on Friday seeking to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to revise air quality standards for pollution involving soot.
The 11 state coalition took action after the EPA was unable to meet a deadline set for October to revise existing standards, as required by the Clean Air Act. Schneiderman's lawsuit, which was filed in federal district court in Manhattan, requests that the court order the EPA to promptly adopt new air pollution standards by a certain date.
"Clean air is a public right, and standards that protect it are a necessity," Schneiderman said. "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, which is also called PM 2.5 or fine particulate matter, is produced by buses, power plants, diesel trucks and other sources and is prevalent in urban areas like New York, Schneiderman says.
Tiny soot particles can evade the defense mechanisms of the body and collect deep within the lungs, where the particles can be absorbed into the blood stream, Schneiderman says.
The EPA estimates that more than 100 million Americans have particular susceptibility to soot, including senior citizens, children and people with asthma. According to the American Lung Association, one in 17 Americans live in areas that have year-round unhealthy levels of soot and New York City is among the top 25 cities in the U.S. with the highest pollution levels. Under the current standards, the EPA estimates that approximately 2,000 people experience premature deaths each year in New York City urban areas from lung and heart disease as a result of soot.
The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review and revise, if warranted by advances in science, the national air quality standards for common air pollutants like soot every five years. The agency revised the standards last in 2006, though New York and 15 additional states challenged those standards as lax and having been adopted against the advice created by the EPA's own experts for air pollution and independent advisors for the agency.
The District of Columbia federal court and an appellate court in 2009 agreed with the state coalition and ruled that the EPA had not justified the decision to adopt those standards. The court returned the standards to the EPA for reconsideration due to concerns that there was inadequate support for public health.
The EPA responded to the court's remand by saying that it would revise its soot standards by Oct. 11, but the deadline allegedly passed without the EPA finalizing or proposing revised soot standards. Because the agency allegedly failed to act on this health matter, Schneiderman and the states in the coalition sent a 60-day notice to the EPA on Nov. 16 regarding their intention to sue over an alleged failure to revise the soot air pollution standards in a timely fashion.
The EPA has not taken action to respond to the coalition's notice, leading the coalition to take Friday's legal action. In addition, the states have a petition pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit requesting that the EPA quickly revise the standards for soot.
Other states joining Schneiderman in the action include Washington, Vermont, Rhode Island, Oregon, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and California.