Green groups confident pollution rule will prevail

Environmental groups say they are confident a federal court will uphold an air pollution rule that is being challenged by industry.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — the primary judicial body that hears challenges to federal government policies — is considering whether to overturn an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that would strengthen air pollution standards across the country.

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Business groups sued the EPA over the rule, saying it would be too expensive to comply with and could take a toll on the economy. But environmental groups argue the rule is "anchored in science" and would go a long way toward protecting public health.

"EPA's health-based standards for particulate pollution are thoroughly anchored in science and law," Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement, "and we are confident that the U.S. Court of Appeals will reject industry's misguided legal attack on these life-saving protections for our communities and families."

Following Thursday's court hearing, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said the three-judge panel, which included two Republican appointees, seemed hesitant to reverse the rule.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh said the business groups are facing an "uphill climb" and said he did not want to "second-guess" the EPA on this rule, even though he has been critical of the agency in the past.

Both Kavanaugh and Judge David Tatel, who was appointed by a Democratic president, said they were satisfied with the studies the EPA had considered before making the rule.

In December 2012, the EPA issued a rule that tightens the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for fine particles such as soot to an average 12 micrograms per cubic meter, down from 15 micrograms. The action marked the first time the rules had been updated since 1997.

Soot is a dangerous form of air pollution that comes from the tailpipes on cars and power plants, according to the EPA.

The EPA argued that strengthening environmental protections against air pollution is necessary because of scientific studies that show exposure to soot has been linked to a number of cardiovascular diseases that affect the heart and lungs.

Environmental and health groups such as the EDF, Earthjustice and the American Lung Association are defending the EPA rule.

Elena Craft, a scientist with the EDF, called on the court to uphold the EPA's rule, because soot is "cutting short Americans' lives."

“Soot causes serious heart and lung diseases, including heart attacks, asthma attacks, and even premature death,” Craft said in a statement.

But the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined by other industry groups in challenging the rule in court. They pointed to studies they conducted that show the current standards are sufficient to protect the environment and public health.

"We submitted data, and there is no indication the agency responded," said William Wehrum, the lawyer who is representing the industry groups. 

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