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NJ Joins Federal Lawsuit Challenging EPA’s Failure to Strengthen National Air Quality Standards

New Jersey

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced today that New Jersey has joined a coalition of states in suing the Trump Administration over the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) failure to strengthen national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for particulate matter, an air pollutant that has been linked to serious health problems, and which poses a particular threat to environmental justice communities.

Officials said in a statement, a petition for review filed today by 17 Attorneys General including Attorney General Grewal asks the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to review EPA’s recent action on NAAQS for particulate matter.

In that action, EPA failed to strengthen eight-year-old federal limits for particulate matter, despite new scientific evidence indicating that those limits fail to adequately protect the public and need to be strengthened according to the statement. 

The states contend that new information shows human health is significantly threatened by exposure to particulate matter levels below the existing standards. For example, even in areas where the current NAAQS for particulate matter are being met, it is estimated that long-term exposure to particulate matter is associated with up to 45,000 deaths annually.

“In its waning days, the Trump Administration continues to undermine environmental protection as it has since day one,” said Attorney General Grewal. “And we will continue to push back as we have, to ensure that this lame-duck administration does not leave a long trail of disastrous environmental consequences in its wake.”

Particulate matter has been linked to a number of medical conditions including heart disease, lung cancer and central nervous system issues such as cognitive impairment and dementia.

One subcategory of the pollutant – fine particulate matter generated by such sources as cars and trucks, smokestacks, incinerators and industrial operations – is considered the largest environmental health risk factor in the U.S., accounting for an estimated 63 percent of deaths due to environmental causes.

Particulate matter also looms as a significant environmental justice concern, as it poses a heightened threat to poor and minority communities where residents often experience greater exposure through proximity to major highways, factories and other industrial facilities.

A recent national study published by Harvard University also showed that long-term exposure to particulate matter is associated with higher mortality rates for persons infected with COVID-19.

In addition to arguing that EPA’s decision to maintain the status quo is contradicted by science, the states also contend the decision was based on an EPA review that was “procedurally and substantively flawed.”

Among other issues, the states have noted in prior written comments to EPA, the agency eliminated key steps in its long-established review process for NAAQS and failed to consider input from scientific and other experts on particulate matter.

For example, EPA disbanded a body of scientific and other subject matter experts known as the Particulate Matter Review Panel prior to its review of the NAAQS for particulate matter.

Historically, the Review Panel had acted as a consultant to the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, a seven-member advisory board that EPA is required by federal law to seek input from when evaluating its air quality standards. 

“The Murphy Administration is committed to improving New Jersey’s air quality, particularly in urban areas that for too long have been disproportionately burdened by pollution and environmental injustices,” said Commissioner McCabe.

”Our coalition of forward-thinking states finds it egregious for the Trump Administration to maintain the status quo, despite the obvious health risks. We stand together firmly resolved to fight for protective federal standards for these pollutants to ensure all states are held to the same tough standards because air pollution does not stop at state lines.”

While the impact on public health – and particularly on poor and minority communities -- is foremost among the suing states’ concerns, the states have also pointed to a number of other issues raised by EPA’s refusal to impose stricter standards for particulate matter.

Excessive levels of particulate matter in the air can impede visibility, while also causing the soiling and degradation of buildings, monuments and other outdoor objects. Through today’s lawsuit, New Jersey and the other participating states are seeking to have EPA’s review of its particulate matter standards reopened for more thorough and unbiased consideration.

In filing today’s lawsuit, Attorney General Grewal joins the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, 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.