Late in March, EPA lodged a consent decree with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that brings the agency one step closer to settling a lawsuit with local environmental group Clean Air Council and brings the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, an epicenter of steel production and associated air quality issues, one step closer to breathing a little easier.
In May 2012, in Clean Air Council v. Jackson, No. 1:12-cv-00707 (D. DC), the Council sued EPA alleging that the agency had failed to comply with its nondiscretionary duty under Clean Air Act section 110(c)(1)(a) to promulgate a federal implementation plan within two years of a November 2009 finding by the agency that Pennsylvania had failed to issue a nonattainment state implementation plan for the Liberty-Clairton and Philadelphia-Wilmington areas. Both areas are out of attainment with EPA’s 1997 PM2.5 national ambient air quality standard. PM2.5 describes particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller. Health studies have linked exposure to fine particles to premature death from heart and lung disease.
A 2009 decision by the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia remanded to EPA a 2006 rule retaining the 1997 annual PM2.5 standard after finding that the agency failed to justify departing from the recommendations of its own staff and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. Am. Farm Bureau Fed’n v. EPA, 559 F.3d 512 (D.C. Cir. 2009). Clean Air Council’s suit was one of several filed by environmentalists in 2012 seeking to ensure that nonattainment areas at least worked towards attainment with the 1997 PM2.5 standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter while the country awaited a revised standard from EPA. EPA revised the annual PM2.5 standard to 12 micrograms per cubic meter on December 14, 2012.
Under the terms of the consent decree, EPA must promulgate a federal implementation plan for the Liberty-Clairton area by December 15, 2013, unless EPA approves a state implementation plan for the area or makes a determination that the area has attained the 1997 PM2.5 standard before that time. (Because Pennsylvania eventually submitted a state implementation plan for the Philadelphia-Wilmington area, which EPA approved in August 2012, the consent decree only requires EPA to promulgate a federal implementation plan that includes measures to bring the Liberty-Clairton area into attainment with the 1997 PM2.5 standard.) The public has until May 20, 2013, to comment on the proposed consent decree.