A federal appeals court is ordering the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take action within 90 days to revise standards meant to protect children from lead-based paint. The San Francisco-based Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday that the EPA has taken too long to act on a 2009 petition from health and environmental groups who want the agency to further restrict lead paint limitations. The judges issued a “writ of mandamus,” a rare edict from a federal court that requires a litigant to take action.
The EPA told the court that it would take another six years to develop a lead paint rule, which the judges did not accept. “EPA fails to identify a single case where a court has upheld an eight year delay as reasonable, let alone a fourteen year delay, if we take into account the six more years EPA asserts it needs to take action,” Judge Mary Schroeder, nominated by former President Carter, wrote on behalf of herself and Judge Randy Smith, a George W. Bush nominee. The judges said the EPA also has an unambiguous duty to act. Scientific studies point toward a higher danger to children from lead paint than when Congress developed standards in the 1990s, studies that the EPA did not dispute.
“Under the [Toxic Substances Control Act] and the Paint Hazard Act, Congress set EPA a task, authorized EPA to engage in rulemaking to accomplish that task, and set up a framework for EPA to amend initial rules and standards in light of new information,” the judges said. “The new information is clear in this record: the current standards for dust-lead hazard and lead-based paint hazard are insufficient to accomplish Congress’s goal.”
An EPA spokesman said the agency would review the Wednesday ruling, and pledged that officials would “continue to work diligently on a number of fronts to address issues surrounding childhood lead exposure from multiple sources.” The EPA has declared lead poisoning to be the greatest environmental hazard to children under age six. The agency agreed in 2009 to accept public comments on the lead petition and to initiate a rule-making, but did not set a time period for the rule-making. The judges ordered the EPA to propose a new rule within 90 days and make a final rule within a year after that.