EPA defends its powers to set vehicle emissions controls

The EPA says it will not back down from its proposal to tighten air quality standards despite a US court appeals decision that questioned the agency's powers.

The EPA’s 1 May proposal will go ahead. It includes protective tail pipe emissions standards for sport utility vehicles (SMVs), mini-vans and pick-up trucks. The proposal marks the first time that SUVs and other light-duty trucks would be subject to the same national pollution standards as cars.

The proposal would also reduce sulphur in gasoline, which will ensure the effectiveness of low emission-control technologies in vehicles and reduce harmful air pollution.

The EPA’s refusal to back down from setting national air quality standards came after a US. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit invoked a law not used since 1936 to question the EPA’s powers.

The court challenge led to a wave of support for the EPA. Most US citizens trust the EPA more than Congress or US courts to set clean air health standards, according to a survey conducted by the American Lung Association. The national survey also found that 86 percent of voters favour stricter clean air health standards.

Many US environmental and public health organisations have also voiced their support. “We support EPA Administrator Carol Browner’s effort to appeal this wrong-headed court decision,” said Steve Cochran of the Environmental Defense Fund. “The public health and environmental community stand firmly behind her. And so do the American people.”

Paul G. Billings of the American Lung Association predicted that the ruling would be overturned on appeal. Meanwhile, he noted that dirty air remains a “clear and present danger for millions of Americans.”

This summer air pollution is already proving a problem for many US cities. “Twenty-five states have reported exceeding the ozone standard,” said Jayne Mardock of the Clean Air Network. “Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia have had more than a week of dirty air days.”

“The problem is caused by big polluting sport utility vehicles, high sulphur gasoline, coal-burning electric power plants and diesel trucks,” said Rebecca Stanfield of U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

On 14 May, a federal appeals court cited an obscure legal argument – last used in 1936 – to set aside EPA’s health standards for smog and soot.

The American Lung Association poll showed:

  • Over eight out of ten voters (86 percent) favour stricter standards, including 58 percent who strongly favour.
  • Only 10 percent oppose stricter standards.
  • A third of voters say the levels should be strict enough to protect the health of an average person
  • Nearly two-thirds of voters think community air pollution standards should be set at even stricter levels to protect the health of children with asthma and senior citizens.
  • Seventy-seven percent trust the EPA, including 32 percent who trust it a great deal.
  • Congress and the courts follow at a distance at 51 percent trust for Congress and 56 percent trust for the courts.
  • Voters are least trusting of the oil or trucking industries to set air pollution standards at 32 percent and 35 percent trust respectively.

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