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Press Release AG Healey Sues Trump Administration Over Failure to Strengthen Standards Regulating Dangerous Air Pollutants

Long-term Exposure to Particulate Matter Linked to Higher COVID-19 Death Rates; Concentrations of the Pollutant Are Highest in Black, Latinx, and Asian Communities; AG Also Joining Challenge to Harmful Delays in Implementing Ozone Standards
For immediate release:
1/13/2021
  • Office of Attorney General Maura Healey

Media Contact for AG Healey Sues Trump Administration Over Failure to Strengthen Standards Regulating Dangerous Air Pollutants

Chloe Gotsis

BOSTON Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today joined a coalition of 17 attorneys general and the City of New York in suing the Trump Administration over its failure to strengthen the federal national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for dangerous particulate matter pollution, as required by the federal Clean Air Act. Fine particulate matter pollution is the largest environmental health risk factor in the country, and increased exposure to the pollutant is linked to higher death rates of COVID-19.

“Failure to strengthen pollution standards will only exacerbate public health inequities as people in our Black, Brown, and immigrant communities are dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates,” AG Healey said. “We will never stop fighting for better air quality and we will hold President Trump accountable for trying to sabotage the health of our residents on his way out the door.”

Exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), a pollutant emitted from cars, factories, and construction, at the current standards is estimated to kill up to 45,000 people every year nationwide. PM2.5 pollution is linked to many serious medical conditions including asthma, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, cognitive impairment, and dementia. PM2.5 pollution reduces visibility, contributes to the climate crisis, and degrades the environment. In Massachusetts, PM2.5 concentrations are highest in Black and Latinx communities, and these inequalities have worsened over time.

Under the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to set NAAQS for several pollutants, including particulate matter, at a level that protects public health and welfare. EPA is required to periodically review the standards and revise them if new information shows that existing standards are inadequate. Evidence overwhelmingly shows that our communities need more protection. Since EPA’s last review in 2012, new studies have made clear that exposure to particulate matter causes grave health risks at levels below the current standards.

AG Healey joined a coalition of attorneys general that filed comments on the proposed rule in June arguing that EPA conducted a flawed and unlawfully biased review of the current NAAQS, and the available science demonstrates the need for EPA to strengthen the NAAQS. The comments argued that EPA failed to consider that reducing the current NAAQS is important as a matter of environmental justice, given the disparate particulate matter exposures and associated health risks for Black, Latinx, and Asian communities. Additionally, the attorneys general argued that EPA ignored new evidence regarding particulate matter’s interference with visibility and applied the wrong standard of review for public welfare impacts. The agency, the comments argued, also failed to consider increasing particulate matter exposure from wildfires related to climate change. 

In May, AG Healey issued a brief on the environmental factors, including elevated exposure to particulate matter pollution, that compound the COVID-19 pandemic’s disparate impact on communities of color in Massachusetts, and the steps the state should take to address the longstanding impact of environmental injustice on those communities.

Joining AG Healey in filing today’s lawsuit over the Administration’s failure to strengthen the NAAQS for particulate matter pollution are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, as well as the City of New York, the California Air Resources Board, and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

AG Healey also joined a coalition of five attorneys general and the City of New York in suing EPA over its failure to take required actions necessary to control certain “upwind” states’ emissions of ozone pollution. The lawsuit filed yesterday argues EPA violated its duty to act on pending state implementation plans, thereby preventing implementation of those standards and putting downwind states like Massachusetts at risk. Ground level ozone—commonly referred to as smog—is a dangerous pollutant that causes or aggravates adverse health effects, including bronchitis, lung tissue damage, heart disease and emphysema.

Special Assistant Attorney General Megan Herzog of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division is handling the NAAQS particulate matter lawsuit for Massachusetts. Special Assistant Attorney General David Frankel and Assistant Attorney General Carol Iancu are handling the lawsuit challenging the delay in the Administration’s implementation of the existing standards for ozone pollution.

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Media Contact for AG Healey Sues Trump Administration Over Failure to Strengthen Standards Regulating Dangerous Air Pollutants

Office of Attorney General Maura Healey 

Attorney General Maura Healey is the chief lawyer and law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
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