SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, and New York Attorney General Letitia James led a coalition of 17 attorneys general in issuing a comment letter urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set aside its arbitrary and capricious proposal leaving the current National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for particulate matter pollution unchanged and to instead strengthen those standards. The EPA’s own science, which already underestimates risk, shows that the number of deaths from particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions ranges from 16,000 to 17,000 annually. In addition to premature mortality, particulate matter is linked to many serious public health problems including cardiovascular disease, respiratory impacts, and cancer. Particulate matter is a pollutant emitted from a variety of sources including vehicles, factories, and construction sites. Research shows that low-income and minority communities are disproportionately exposed to particulate matter and the associated health risks.
"Across the country, our relatives and neighbors in low income communities bear the brunt of particulate matter pollution and the health consequences," said Attorney General Becerra. "As a respiratory pandemic sweeps across the country, the Trump Administration’s failure to strengthen these standards is absolutely unacceptable. Lives are at stake. We urge the Trump Administration to do its job, listen to science and abandon this callous proposal.”
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to set NAAQS for several pollutants including particulate matter. The standards are required to be set at a level that protects public health, safety, and welfare. The EPA is then required to review the standards once every five years and revise them if new information shows that the existing standards are inadequate. The EPA’s regulations have reduced annual concentrations of PM2.5 by 39 percent between 2000 and 2018. Nevertheless, the science shows that more protection is necessary. Since the EPA’s last review, the science has been updated to show a more clear link between exposure to particulate matter at levels below the current standard and grievous health impacts. The EPA’s own staff concurred on these conclusions.
In the comment letter, the coalition argues that the EPA’s proposal to retain the current NAAQS on particulate matter is arbitrary and capricious because the agency has sought to suppress the compelling evidence necessitating stricter standards. Specifically, the coalition highlights that the EPA shut out input from the most qualified scientists on the relevant topics by summarily dismissing the 21 scientists it had originally empaneled to provide input on the EPA’s scientific analysis. Additionally, just prior to initiating its substantive review of NAAQS, the EPA issued a directive that arbitrarily and capriciously barred the participation of scientists that had received grant funding from the agency. This effectively blocked the participation of the very scientists the agency had previously deemed to be the best qualified in the relevant subject matter. The EPA recently conceded that this directive was improper, choosing not to appeal a federal court’s decision to vacate the directive. However, this concession cannot turn back the clock and does not correct the infirmities of the EPA’s scientific review that resulted from the implementation of this misguided directive.
In filing the comment letter, Attorneys General Becerra, Raoul, and James are joined by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
A copy of the comment letter can be found here.