Eleven states filed a lawsuit in federal court on Friday to induce the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to promptly revise national air quality standards for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5, also known as soot) and adopt them by a certain date.

The suit was filed at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The states’ complaint says it is intended to "compel" EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to comply with the "nondiscretionary duty under the Clean Air Act to timely review and revise as necessary the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for particulate matter pollution.”

The EPA’s review and revision of NAAQS is long overdue, the states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington—claim. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review and revise NAAQS standards at five-year intervals, and the EPA last issued a NAAQS review for particulate matter in October 2006.

One reason the states are pushing for an urgent review is that in its 2006 NAAQS, then-EPA administrator Stephen Johnson decided not to revise the primary annual standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter of PM 2.5—"contrary to the recommendations of the EPA’s independent scientific advisory committee, EPA, and numerous medical and public health groups," the complaint alleges.

In 2006, several states and environmental groups sued the EPA to force a review, and in February 2009, the court granted these petitions in part, ruling that the EPA failed to reasonably explain its decision not to strengthen the primary annual standard. In October 2009, the EPA said it would address the court’s remand order in a proposed NAAQS by July 2010 and a final NAAQS by April 2011.

But according to the states, the EPA "failed to issue its proposal … in July 2010, as promised." In December 2010, the agency announced it would not issue its proposal until July 2011. Later, “concerned about these repeated delays in issuing a rule vitally important to public health," the complaint says a group of states asked the EPA for a "firm timetable" on when it would complete review and revise the particulate matter NAAQS.

In May 2011, the EPA said in a letter that it hoped to issue the proposed NAAQS that year and final standards in the "spring of 2012." However, "Despite those representations, to date EPA has not either proposed or promulgated revised particulate matter NAAQS," the complaint says.

The coalition of states is being led by New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

“EPA is continuing to work on proposing the PM 2.5 standards,” the agency told POWERnews when asked about reasons for the delay. “That’s all we can share at this time.”

Sources: POWERnews, Office of New York State Attorney General