Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) particulate matter (soot) pollution standard, ruling that EPA’s decision to strengthen the standard in 2012 was firmly grounded in science and the law. The ruling also upheld EPA’s new requirement that states install air quality monitors near heavy traffic roads, where soot pollution levels can spike. The court’s decision is the latest in a string of legal victories for critical health protections on air pollution.
When fossil fuels are burned in an automobile or power plant, they release soot pollution, very fine, ashy particles less than one tenth the width of a human hair. These particles are so small that the air can carry them for long distances. When inhaled, soot particles penetrate deep into the lungs, where they can cross into the bloodstream via the path normally taken by inhaled oxygen. Exposure to soot pollution can inflame and alter our blood vessels, cutting off the oxygen supply to our heart and brain, leading to a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiac event.
The Clean Air Act mandates that EPA revisit its standards on criteria air pollutants – like soot – every five years, so that clean air standards can keep pace with the latest understanding of health science. Since EPA established its 2006 soot standard, hundreds of scientific studies have shown that particle pollution could cause adverse health effects—even in cities that met EPA’s established limits. Based on this information, in 2012, EPA strengthened its soot pollution standard to protect public health. Furthermore, EPA called for states to implement roadside air quality monitors to ensure the standards would likewise protect individuals exposed to significant near-road emissions.
The National Association of Manufacturers and the Utility Air Resources group, a coalition of large power companies and coal companies, filed legal challenges to EPA’s new soot standards, arguing that the 2006 standard was sufficient to protect public health. But the science doesn’t lie. In the D.C. Circuit Court’s unanimous decision, Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote:
Here, we can be brief: Petitioners have not identified any way in which EPA jumped the rails of reasonableness in examining the science. EPA offered reasoned explanations for how it approached and weighed the evidence, and why the scientific evidence supported revision of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
EPA was reasonable in their interpretation of the science—the polluting companies, on the other hand, could not present a credible argument against the updated soot pollution standards, or the need for roadside air quality monitors.
This important victory is critical to protect our families and communities from harmful soot pollution, and it is clear that EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act stands up to both legal and scientific scrutiny.
This post was adapted from EDF’s Texas Clean Air Matters Blog