The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Matt Vespa, (415) 632-5309

Suit Launched to Force EPA to Address Black Carbon Pollution

Potent Global Warming Pollutant Accelerates Melting of Sea Ice, Glaciers


The Center for Biological Diversity today notified the Environmental Protection Agency of its intent to file a lawsuit against the agency for its failure to take action to reduce black carbon, a potent global warming pollutant. Last year, the Center filed a formal petition asking the EPA to set water-quality criteria for black carbon, or soot, to help protect sea ice and glaciers under the Clean Water Act. Today's notice of intent to sue urges the agency to respond promptly to the Center's petition.

"Black carbon is both hazardous to human health and a potent global warming pollutant that's speeding up the melt of Arctic sea ice and glaciers around the world," said Matt Vespa, a senior attorney with the Center. "The EPA has a duty to use the Clean Water Act to help reduce this dangerous pollutant."

Generated from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels and biomass, black carbon is a solid particle that warms the atmosphere in two ways. In the atmosphere, its dark color absorbs heat and raises the temperature of the air. When it lands on ice and snow, it darkens these surfaces, thereby absorbing heat and increasing melting. Over the course of the Arctic spring, black-carbon-contaminated snow and ice can melt weeks earlier than clean snow and ice.

Due to its warming effects in the air and on ice and snow, black carbon is considered one of the largest contributors to global warming after carbon dioxide pollution. In addition to its strong warming effect, black carbon also has profound impacts on public health, contributing to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year. The Center's notice to the EPA today comes on the heels of a United Nations report that concluded that the control of black carbon particles "through rapid implementation of proven emission reduction measures would have immediate and multiple benefits for human well-being."

If current trends continue, many of the glaciers in the continental United States, including all of the glaciers in Glacier National Park, will disappear within the next 25 to 30 years. Scientists believe the Arctic could be ice-free in the summer by 2030. Summer sea ice has already decreased by more than 40 percent, or 1 million square miles, from what was present in the 1970s.

Because black carbon stays in the atmosphere for less than a month, however, reductions in black-carbon emissions yield immediate environmental and public health benefits.

"Reducing black-carbon pollution today buys critically needed time to achieve the deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gases that are ultimately necessary to preserve sea ice and glaciers," said Vespa. "But the window of opportunity to act is closing rapidly."

If the EPA were to adopt water-quality criteria for black carbon, each state with glaciers (Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Washington and Wyoming) or sea ice (Alaska) would either need to adopt the EPA standard or set its own. Those standards would then become the basis for developing controls on the release of black carbon in order to protect sea ice and glaciers from this dangerous pollutant. Emissions from diesel engines, particularly from ships and older heavy-duty vehicles and construction equipment, are a primary domestic source of black carbon.

The notice of intent gives the EPA 60 days to correct the alleged violations before the Center pursues legal action.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

(520) 623-5252