AIR POLLUTION:

Appeals court orders review of Bush admin soot rule

A federal appeals court today sent a Bush administration rule that set national pollution standards for airborne soot and dust back to U.S. EPA for review.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that EPA's 2006 standards for fine particulate matter were, "in several respects, contrary to law and unsupported by adequately reasoned decisionmaking."

At issue was the rule that kept the primary standard for annual fine particulate matter at 15 micrograms per cubic meter, even though EPA's staff and scientific advisers had recommended a standard between 13 and 14 micrograms.

States, environmental groups and public health groups challenged the rule last September, arguing it was not backed by science and failed to protect the health of vulnerable people (Greenwire, Sept. 16, 2008).

The court sided with environmentalists, saying EPA failed to adequately explain why an annual level of 15 micrograms per cubic meter is sufficient to protect the public health. The court sent the annual soot standard back to the agency for reconsideration. But the court did not vacate the annual standard in the meantime.

"This is a real chance for the EPA to get it right, and to set standards that are truly based on the need to protect people's health," said Frank O'Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, in an e-mail.

Justice Department attorneys had defended the rule, saying former EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson did not have enough evidence to change the annual standard.

The court also sent the Bush EPA's secondary standard for soot -- aimed at protecting human welfare -- back to the agency for reconsideration, saying EPA had acted unreasonably and contrary to the law when it was issued.

Click here to read the court's decision.

This story was corrected at 5 p.m. EST.

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