On May 31, a federal judge in the District of Columbia issued an order giving the EPA one final week to issue its proposed rule updating standards for particulate matter air pollution. The American Lung Association, the National Parks Conservation Association, and 11 states, including New York and California, had asked the court to compel EPA to review the standards and to propose any revisions based upon the latest scientific data. (American Lung Ass’n v. EPA, D.D.C., No. 1:12-cv-243, 5/31/12). The proposed regulations are more than six months overdue according to the October 2011 statutory deadline, and they must meet requirements set by a federal appeals court in 2009.
Particulate matter is a form of air pollution consisting of small particles suspended in air, such as dust or soot. It is a common byproduct of combustion processes, like those conducted in power plants and factories. Diesel truck exhaust is also a notable source of airborne particulate matter. Inhalation of particulate matter can cause asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular issues, birth defects, and premature deaths in humans.
The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review and consider revising air quality standards every five years. EPA last revised the particulate matter standards in 2006, which means the new standards were due in 2011. Additionally, in 2009, EPA had been ordered to revisit its 2006 particulate matter standards to provide a better explanation of why particular standards were sufficient to protect the public health while providing an adequate margin of safety for children and other vulnerable subpopulations. Since that court’s finding, the EPA has not produced new standards and has allowed the 2011 statutory deadline to pass by without publication of a proposed rule.
Last week’s order states that EPA must sign a proposed rule by Thursday, June 7, 2012. It also requires that EPA seek expedited publication of the rule in the Federal Register, and that the agency hold a public hearing within two weeks of such publication. This hearing has already been scheduled for June 11. Following the hearing, the agency will accept comments for seven weeks. The court order did not set a deadline for the final rule; the EPA has said it needs until August 2013, while the ALA, Earthjustice, and NPCA are vying for its publication this December. The federal judge who issued the order has encouraged both sides to reach an agreement on a deadline before the June 11 hearing.
Priya Murthy is a Summer Associate at Sive, Paget & Riesel.