WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - An 11-state coalition announced a settlement on Friday with the federal Environmental Protection Agency requiring it to update its air standards for harmful particulate matter.
Under the terms of the consent decree filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the EPA must update its public health standards for soot pollution by Dec. 14.
The settlement resolves a February lawsuit the coalition filed after the agency failed to revise its existing air standards for soot in a timely fashion. The state coalition includes Washington, New York, Vermont, Rhode Island, Oregon, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and California.
The National Parks Conservation Association and the American Lung Association were co-plaintiffs in the case because their related lawsuit was consolidated with the coalition's suit.
"EPA's commitment to updating our nation's public health standards for soot pollution by year's end is a major victory for public health," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.
"Every day, soot pollution threatens the health of more than one-third of our nation's population, particularly our most vulnerable - children, the elderly and the sick. With this settlement, the health of over 100 million American will no longer be ignored, and the years of delay in revising our nation's current lax soot standards will end."
A district court judge sided with the states two weeks ago, ordering the EPA to expedite action on the proposal for new national soot standards. The agency issued its proposed standards on Thursday pursuant to the court order, and the consent decree commits the agency to a deadline to finalize the standards that is enforceable by the court.
Soot and other particulate matter pollution is a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion by residential fuel burning, industrial facilities, power generation, motor vehicles and other sources. The pollution consists of microscopic particles that can cause many adverse health effects.
The EPA has connected exposure to this type of pollution with decreased lung function, increased respiratory symptoms and disease and premature deaths in people with lung or heart disease.
The agency estimates that approximately 100 million Americans are particularly susceptible to harm from particulate matter, including seniors, people with lung diseases and children.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA must review and revise the national air quality standards for common air pollutants as warranted by advances in public health science. The EPA's adoption of final revised standards puts a timetable into effect for states to put air pollution reduction measures into effect to attain the revised standards. The agency last revised the soot pollution national standards in 2006.
Sixteen states challenged the 2006 standards as too lax and, in 2009, a federal appeals court agreed with the coalition. The EPA failed to revise or propose new standards when the next statutory deadline passed.
The coalition sued the EPA in February for failing to revise the public health standards in a timely manner. On May 31, the judge sided with the coalition and, on June 6, the court ordered the agency to sign the proposed rule by Thursday. The settlement followed the signing of the rule.