Court affirms historic clean air standards

Time to get on with the business of cleaning the air

provided by Environmental Defense

n April, a three-judge panel of the United States Federal Court of Appeals ruled for the second time on critical new health-based clean air standards, firmly rejecting industry's renewed challenges to overturn the standards. On May 14, 1999, the same panel of judges had ruled 2-1 that the standards were unconstitutional, only to be reversed in a unanimous decision by the United States Supreme Court on February 27, 2001. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the clean air standards at issue in 1997 to protect public health by limiting nationwide pollution levels of smog (ground-level ozone) and fine, sooty particles.

    “It is a public health imperative that the Bush administration, our nation's governors and mayors across the country take immediate action to begin making these clean air standards a reality,” said Environmental Defense senior attorney Vickie Patton. “For nearly five years, the legal wrangling by industry lawyers has delayed critical progress in delivering cleaner, healthier air to the millions of Americans that will be protected by these standards.”

    When EPA issued the standards in 1997, it estimated that when implemented the standards would protect 125 million Americans from adverse health effects of air pollution and each year would prevent:

  • 15,000 premature deaths,
  • 350,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and
  • 1 million cases of significantly decreased lung function in children.

    Since then, a body of scientific research has only strengthened the medical basis for the standards. On March 6, 2002, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study of 500,000 people across the country, finding that prolonged exposure to air contaminated with fine particles significantly raises the risk of dying of lung cancer or other heart and lung diseases. Other recent studies have linked the pollutants at issue with increased risk of asthma in children (ozone); acute stroke mortality (particulates and ozone); and birth defects (ozone). A study of the 90 largest US cities found strong evidence linking daily increases in particulate pollution at contemporary levels to increases in daily death rates, and in hospital admissions of the elderly. Another study has indicated that chronic exposure to particulate pollution may shorten lives by one to three years.

    Environmental Defense led a coalition of environmental organizations in helping to successfully defend the clean air standards in two related cases before the United States Supreme Court.

    Environmental Defense, a leading national nonprofit organization based in New York, represents more than 300,000 members. Since 1967 we have linked science, economics, and law to create innovative, equitable, and cost-effective solutions to the most urgent environmental problems