AIR POLLUTION:

Enviros, farmers sue EPA over soot limits

The Bush administration will face lawsuits from two sides over its decision to change air standards for microscopic soot.

Public health and environmental groups today sued U.S. EPA over a rule that they say should have been tougher. On the other hand, the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council have challenged EPA in the same federal appeals court in Washington over the agency's decision to not exempt the regulation of farm dust.

Earthjustice, the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense and the National Parks Conservation Association claim EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson released new air pollution regulations in September that ignore the advice of his agency's own 22-member panel of outside scientific advisers.

Twenty members of the EPA's Clean Air Science Advisory Committee said Johnson should have set a stronger standard in order to help avoid premature deaths and to reduce cases of asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and other chronic lung diseases.

"Particulate matter pollution is a major health threat, the evidence of this fact is stronger than ever," David Baron, an attorney at Earthjustice, said in a press release. "But the EPA refused to follow the advice of leading doctors, scientists and health advocates who said that the standard won't protect public health. We say the public deserves better under the Clean Air Act."

Bob Stallman, president of the farm bureau, also took aim at EPA's rule. In a press release, he insisted EPA's decisions did not rely on "sound science" and would have negative effects on farmers and ranchers.

"Regulations imposed upon U.S. farmers and ranchers must have a scientific basis," Stallman said. "Overregulation simply restricts farmers and ranchers from being productive and serving as global leaders in providing safe and affordable food in the U.S. and abroad."

The deadline for litigation against EPA's so-called National Ambient Air Quality Standard, or NAAQS, falls on Monday. Other suits are possible from states who say the EPA limits are not strong enough and industry groups who say they are too strong.

"We shall see what happens," said Betty Cox of the American Petroleum Institute. "In all the recent NAAQS determinations, every single one has had some appeal. I wouldn't be surprised of one, but I don't know of any."

Judith Enck, policy adviser to New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D), was not ready to commit to litigation. "We're not filing anything today," she said.

EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood defended the agency's new regulations, saying they will drive public health benefits between $20 billion to $160 billion a year. "EPA's particulate matter standards are the most health protective air quality standards in U.S. history," she said. "Where the science was clear, we took clear action."

Click here to view the environmentalist and public health groups' challenge.

Click here to view the farm bureau's petition.

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