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June 30, 2020
Contact: Tom Lalley

Seventeen State AGs Urge EPA to Strengthen Standards for Nation’s Deadliest Air Pollutant

EPA ignored new and overwhelming scientific evidence in unlawful proposal that fails to update standards for particulate matter pollution, responsible for an estimated 63 percent of deaths from environmental causes.

Washington, D.C. —  New York Attorney General Letitia James led a coalition of 17 state attorneys general in submitting comments yesterday urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to strengthen the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for particulate matter (PM). In April, the EPA announced its proposed decision to not strengthen standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) — also called soot — and coarse particles (PM10), despite overwhelming evidence of serious health impacts from levels of PM2.5 below the current standards. While PM pollution levels have fallen significantly over the past 50 years, the EPA estimates that, in areas that meet the current PM standards, long-term PM2.5 exposure is associated with up to 45,000 deaths every year. In their comments, the AGs called the current standards “inadequate” and cited the “overarching significance” of the EPA’s arbitrary and capricious weakening of the process used to evaluate the NAAQS, which “tainted the entire review and its results.”

Particulate matter pollution is a mixture of tiny, airborne solid particles and liquid droplets generated by the combustion of fossil fuels in cars, trucks and power plants, and emitted from construction sites, unpaved roads, fires and other sources. Particulate matter is one of six pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act’s NAAQS program that the EPA is statutorily required to periodically review, taking into account the latest research on health and environmental effects. PM2.5 is the smallest — one-thirtieth the width of a human hair — and deadliest form of PM pollution.

“Reducing particulate pollution is essential for protecting our residents’ health and welfare,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. “The EPA excluded experts from the review process and ignored the science supporting more stringent standards. That is not acceptable.”

“Across the country, our relatives and neighbors in low income communities bear the brunt of particulate matter pollution and the health consequences,” said California Attorney General Xavier 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.”

The AGs’ comments stressed that the EPA’s proposal contradicts overwhelming evidence of the health harms associated with PM pollution, and ignores the advice and recommendations of its own staff, members of the agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and the committee’s Particulate Matter Review Panel. The AGs noted that, in a policy assessment for the standards, EPA staff said that the evidence of harms from PM pollution “can reasonably be viewed as calling into question the adequacy of the current primary PM2.5 standards.” The EPA’s review panel went even further, concluding that “the current primary standards are unequivocally not adequately protective” and “the entire weight of scientific evidence supports more stringent standards.”
The AGs also flagged significant environmental justice concerns, calling the EPA’s refusal to acknowledge the well-documented and disproportionate impact of PM pollution on Black communities and other communities of color in its decision “egregious and wholly contradicted by the record.” Recent research cited by the AGs shows that, in the northeast and mid-Atlantic region, “the relative health risk to Blacks from fine particulate matter is three times the overall average for the entire population.”
The AGs’ comments also highlighted the EPA's flawed review process, which shut out scientific experts and the public and undermined the role of science. In May 2018, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a memo that laid the groundwork for the faulty process by eliminating public reviews of key policy and scientific assessments and limiting the agency’s ability to use input from experts to craft the standards. Later in 2018, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler fired the Particulate Matter Review Panel of the agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and imposed a new policy — recently vacated by a federal district court — that excluded recipients of EPA grant funding from serving on the CASAC. The AGs stressed that these and other actions “resulted in the Administrator having less, and lower quality, evidence and information” and undermined the integrity of the entire review process.
The EPA first established the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for PM pollution in 1971 and has regularly tightened the standards as the science has advanced. As a result of the EPA’s efforts as implemented by states, between 2000 and 2018 the annual concentration of PM2.5 declined by 39 percent.
The attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin joined AG James in filing the comments.


About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (State Impact Center) is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to helping state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks and advocate for clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. For more information, visit our website