Judges back EPA on soot standard in another big win for agency

Source: Daniel Lippman, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, May 12, 2014

A federal appellate court rejected a broad industry challenge today to U.S. EPA’s air standard for fine particles, ruling that the agency acted reasonably and has “substantial discretion” when setting pollution limits.

The National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups had sought to vacate EPA’s decision more than a year ago to tighten the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for fine particles, or soot, from 15 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over a year to 12 micrograms.The ruling by U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a Republican appointee who has previously criticized EPA air rules, said the petitioners “simply have not identified any way in which EPA jumped the rails of reasonableness in examining the science” that led to a more stringent standard.

The decision in National Association of Manufacturers v. EPA and Gina McCarthy was telegraphed by the three judges who voiced skepticism of industry’s position during oral arguments in February (Greenwire, Feb. 20).

EPA justified making the standard more stringent by pointing to a number of scientific studies that linked exposure to the particles, which come from tailpipes, power plants, drilling operations and boilers, to a variety of cardiovascular ailments (Greenwire, Dec. 14, 2012).

But industry groups claimed they submitted their own studies that suggested retaining the 15-microgram standard was sufficient.

Kavanaugh said that EPA had “offered reasoned explanations for how it approached and weighted” the scientific evidence that concluded that a tighter standard was required.

Industry had also challenged EPA’s new requirement that states install air monitors near heavy traffic roads in urban areas and said that this monitoring would lead to standards for soot that’s too stringent.

But the court agreed with EPA that if the agency ignored these areas, it would be abdicating its responsibility to measure air quality accurately and give at-risk people living in those areas the proper protection.

Industry slammed the ruling, the latest in a recent string of victories for EPA and environmentalists.

“We’re disappointed in today’s ruling that only further ads to the thousands of regulations facing manufacturers,” said NAM senior vice president and general counsel, Linda Kelly, in a statement. “The court’s decision also underscores the difficulty manufacturers face in pushing back against a powerful and often overreaching EPA. The Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action is reviewing the decision and considering future options.”

Environmental groups applauded the ruling, saying it upheld EPA’s authority to make the air cleaner.

“The national air quality standards for particulate pollution that were affirmed by the court today provide a bedrock scientific foundation to ensure healthier longer lives for our families,” Environmental Defense Fund attorney Peter Zalzal said in a statement.

“Soot is an extremely dangerous, and sometimes deadly, pollutant that causes heart attacks and asthma attacks. The sooner our nation can work together to reduce the amount of particulate pollution in our air, the sooner those afflicted by this dangerous pollutant can breathe easier.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council noted in a statement the standards would lead to $4 billion to $9.1 billion in health benefits once they’re implemented.

“This is, literally, a life-saving ruling for thousands upon thousands of Americans who would die prematurely from lung and heart problems caused by these tiny particles,” said John Walke, NRDC’s clean air director.

Click here for the ruling.