SFGate - May 8, 2008.
The Bush administration has violated legal deadlines for updating the nation's clean-air standards on carbon monoxide, a federal judge in San Francisco has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White told the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday to follow a schedule that would allow a full scientific review, public comment and any proposed changes in the standard to take place by May 2011. The EPA had proposed a timetable that would extend through October 2012.
Carbon monoxide, an odorless and invisible by-product of incomplete combustion in auto exhaust, refinery fumes and other emissions of fossil fuels, is lethal at high levels and can cause health problems and birth defects at lower levels. It is one of the pollutants for which the EPA sets a nationwide standard, requiring states to devise their own plans for compliance.
The current national standard was set in 1971. Federal law requires a reassessment every five years, but the EPA last reviewed the standard in 1994 and made no changes, said Shana Lazerow, a lawyer for Communities for a Better Environment, one of the groups that sued the federal agency.
Environmental groups in the lawsuit said recent scientific studies have found that carbon monoxide is dangerous at levels that were previously considered safe. They said two reports in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, published in 2001 and 2005, both found low birth weights among children born to women who were exposed to carbon monoxide at levels far below those allowed by the 1971 standard.
"Current health standards allow our children to be exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide across the country," said Jeremy Nichols, director of Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, another plaintiff in the case.
Lazerow said studies also show that poor and minority children are most at risk.
Environmental advocates and officials in California and other states have accused President Bush's EPA of foot-dragging in regulating pollutants, including greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, and ignoring scientific recommendations.
The EPA says it has come up with a new approach to clean-air regulation that will streamline the process while incorporating the latest scientific information. But White, in his ruling, noted that the agency's own advisory panel of independent scientists called the new procedures "entirely unsuitable" in January, saying they failed to provide timely information about the contents of proposed regulations.
The judge said the EPA conceded it had missed the deadline for reassessing the carbon monoxide standard but argued that it should now have five years from the time the suit was filed in 2007, shortly before the agency took the first steps in the review process. White disagreed, saying the evidence showed a thorough review could be completed 17 months earlier.
There was no immediate comment from the EPA.