‘Tortured history’ plagued EPA’s soot pollution rule

By Sean Reilly | 02/08/2024 01:41 PM EST

The campaign to thwart stronger soot standards featured what some advocates view as an unparalleled attack on the underlying science.

Exhaust rises from smokestacks in front of piles of coal at NRG Energy's W.A. Parish Electric Generating Station in Thompsons, Texas, on March 16, 2011.

EPA's soot rule was over 10 years in the making. David J. Phillip/AP

The science is clear, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said Wednesday, announcing an historic tightening of air pollution regulations: Soot “is one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution and is linked to a range of serious and potentially deadly illnesses.”

Reaching that point, however, was a slog like no other in agency history, beset by lawsuits, accusations of politicization and an unprecedented reversal of an earlier administration’s decision. Even today, the repercussions continue.

“It’s just been such a tortured history,” said Julie McNamara, deputy policy director for climate and energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a research and advocacy group that backs the tougher limit.


Emblematic of the messy and debilitating struggle was the 2019 declaration of a top EPA adviser that his panel lacked the know-how to do its job in assessing soot standards and that he was proceeding under protest. The review process, Dr. Mark Frampton, a retired University of Rochester pulmonologist, said at the time, was “broken.”