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17 states sue EPA for declining to tighten air pollution standards

The Hill logo The Hill 4 days ago Rachel Frazin
a bridge over a body of water: 17 states sue EPA for declining to tighten air pollution standards © Getty Images 17 states sue EPA for declining to tighten air pollution standards

A coalition of 17 states and New York City are suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its decision not to tighten major air pollution standards.

The petition for review of the decision to retain current standards for fine particulate matter didn't detail the states' legal arguments.

However, a press release from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra's (D) office said that they are arguing that the EPA "conducted a flawed and unlawfully biased review" and that "the available science clearly demonstrates the need for the EPA to strengthen the [standard]."

"Study after study shows the negative health impacts of particulate matter pollution to our most vulnerable communities," Becerra, whom President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate as Health and Human Services secretary, said in the release. "History books will record unkindly the Trump Administration's callous disregard for their lives and the willful denial of science and the law."

The EPA in December finalized a decision to retain the standards set by the Obama administration in 2012 for both fine and coarse forms of particulate matter, commonly known as soot.

Findings reviewed by the agency in its decision-making have linked long-term exposure to fine particle pollution to tens of thousands of deaths and suggested that stricter standards could save thousands of lives.

Exposure to particulate matter has been linked to heart and lung issues.

An EPA spokesperson declined to offer a reaction the lawsuit, saying that the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.

When the agency first proposed retaining the current standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter in April, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said "we believe that the current standard is protective of public health."

However, last year, agency staffers cast doubt on whether the current standards are adequate.

They determined that scientific evidence and air quality analyses "can reasonably be viewed as calling into question the adequacy of the public health protection afforded by the combination of the current ... standards" for fine particulate matter.

"A conclusion that the current ... standards do provide adequate public health protection would place little weight on the broad body of epidemiologic evidence reporting generally positive and statistically significant health effect associations," they wrote.

Wheeler has criticized those findings, saying they contained "uncertainties" and other limitations.

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