Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin has joined with 10 other states filing a lawsuit to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue rules against soot. The coalition took legal action after the EPA failed to meet an October deadline to adopt national standards to limit soot.
The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in New York City, asks the Court to direct the EPA to promptly propose and then finalize new standards. The states asked the court to enforce an earlier order to issue a new standard. The earlier order was won by the states in February 2009 for a lawsuit that was filed in 2006 and supposed to be done by October 2011.
According to Kilmartin, “The science is clear that the current federal standards for soot emissions are woefully inadequate, causing premature deaths and serious chronic respiratory harm to people in Rhode Island as well as across our country.”
Soot – also known as fine particulate matter or “PM 2.5” – is produced primarily by diesel engines and power plants. Breathing soot can increase emergency room visits for people with asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
According to the American Lung Association, one in 17 Americans lives in areas with unhealthy year-round levels of soot. Under the current standards, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management estimates that roughly 50 people in the state die prematurely every year from heart disease related to soot pollution. Providence County ranks among the worst 6 percent of all counties in the United States for diesel.
The average lifetime cancer risk from diesel for Providence County is 330 times higher than the acceptable level determined by the EPA itself.
Other Rhode Island Counties rank in the worst 20 percent and Rhode Island has the fifth highest asthma rate in the country and the third highest in the Northeast.
The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to make national standards for several pollutants, including soot, and did in October 2006 but Rhode Island and others challenged the standard as too lax and contrary to science in December of 2006.
In 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with the states, holding that the EPA had not justified its decision and had to study the problem again but the deadline in October of last year passed without the EPA even proposing a new standard.
On Nov. 16, Attorney General Kilmartin and the other states sent a 60-day notice to the EPA, signaling their intention to sue. The EPA has not responded, leading the coalition to take this legal action.
The states joining are: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.