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Bush-era soot measure overturned

February 24, 2009 |  4:09 pm


"Change" became more than a vague slogan in the realm of air pollution Tuesday when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., overturned a Bush-era decision to water down rules controlling the fine soot particles that cause lung cancer, heart disease and asthma.

The repercussions of the successful lawsuit, which was brought by California and 12 other states, along with environmental groups, are likely to be felt from the smoggy freeways of Riverside County to the dusty fields of the San Joaquin Valley and the polluted ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland.

The court decision overturned 2006 standards for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) which spews from diesel engines, power plants and other sources. Those standards had been weakened by Bush administration political appointees, despite recommendations for stricter standards by the scientific advisory committee and the professional staff of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The appeals court found that the Bush EPA had erred in failing to account for the fact that children and the elderly are affected more severely by soot pollution, and it ordered the agency to set standards to protect public health. California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown applauded the decision, saying: "The Bush administration callously ... put forward a standard justified by nothing more than junk science. Today, the D.C. Circuit Court cleared the way for the Obama administration to right this wrong."

Construction, electrical and auto industries have fought stricter soot-pollution standards, saying the science does not support them and the cost would be too high.

California, with some of the dirtiest air in the nation, is a battleground over diesel pollution rules. Recently, the state's Air Resources Board passed a measure requiring older trucks that travel through the state to retrofit or replace their engines beginning in 2011. An earlier regulation requiring retrofits for diesel construction equipment was recently delayed by the California Legislature in a budget deal after heavy industry lobbying.

— Margot Roosevelt

Photo: power plant in Huntington Beach, CA. Credit: Chris Carlson/AP