EPA triumphs in court battle over air pollution

A federal appeals court has upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s newest limit on soot in the air, saying the agency has a great deal of latitude when it comes to judging scientific studies on pollution.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) sued the EPA last year to challenge its 2012 decision to restrict the annual limit for outdoor ambient exposure to soot, also known as particulate matter, by 20 percent, to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. NAM pointed to other scientific studies to make the case that the new limit was not necessary.

But the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the challenge Friday, finding that NAM did not prove that the new soot rule is “arbitrary and capricious,” the standard that the court often uses to judge regulations.

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“Under the arbitrary and capricious standard, we exercise great deference when we evaluate claims about competing bodies of scientific research,” the court wrote. “Petitioners simply have not identified any way in which EPA jumped the rails of reasonableness in examining the science.”

The court shot down NAM’s arguments over the process of the rule-making, including that the EPA never sought comment on whether to revise the standards at all and that it did not respond to all of NAM’s comments on the rule.

The three-judge panel also upheld the EPA’s new rules for sampling air for soot, which require that large cities put monitoring devices near major roads and prohibit communities from averaging a large area of samples.

NAM said it was disappointed in the ruling, saying it only adds to the thousands of regulations manufacturers face.

“The court’s decision also underscores the difficulty manufacturers face in pushing back against a powerful and often overreaching EPA,” NAM general counsel Linda Kelly said in a statement.

NAM’s litigation arm is reviewing the decision and “considering future options,” Kelly said Friday.

EPA hailed the ruling as a “resounding victory for public health and a key component of EPA and state efforts to ensure all Americans have clean air to breathe,” spokeswoman Liz Purchia said in a statement.

Purchia said the standards will provide $4 billion to $9 billion in health benefits a year when they’re fully implemented, and they were based on extensive scientific evidence.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) praised the court’s decision.

“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,” EDF attorney Peter Zalzal said in a statement. “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.”

Soot is produced mainly by motor vehicles and power plants, and it can contribute to heart attacks, decreased lung function and premature death, the EPA said.

The American Lung Association participated in the case to assist the EPA.