updated 12/18/2006 7:19:48 PM ET 2006-12-19T00:19:48

More than a dozen states sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday to lower soot levels from smokestacks and exhaust pipes, a move the state officials argue would save thousands of lives.

The states argue that the Bush administration is ignoring science and its own experts in refusing to slightly reduce the allowed threshold for soot. The “fine particulate matter” in soot contributes to premature death, chronic respiratory disease and asthma attacks, said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. The pollution also leads to more hospital admissions and other public health costs, he said.

Officials from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and the District of Columbia joined New York in the action filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.

“It is unfortunate that this coalition of states must resort to legal action to get the EPA to do its job — protect the environment and the public health,” said Spitzer, the Democratic governor-elect.

The EPA said it considered new research cited by the state officials. But the agency decided research that prompted a previous reduction was more reliable and didn’t justify a further cut, according to EPA statements. The agency said it will consider the new studies in the next five-year review.

“Where the science was clear, we took clear action,” said EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood. “EPA significantly strengthened the previous daily standard — by nearly 50 percent.”

The emissions, described as much smaller than a grain of sand, come from automobiles, power plants, factories and wood fires.

The states want to reduce the current limit by 1 microgram or 2 micrograms of soot allowed per cubic foot of air. The current maximum is 15 micrograms. The states contend the EPA has ignored their pleas and scientific evidence in choosing to continue the current standard.

The federal Clean Air Act requires a review every five years to determine whether air pollution standards should be adjusted. The states argue this compels the EPA to act.

Last week, a group called Earthjustice, which includes the American Lung Association, the American Medical Association and Environmental Defense, sued the EPA over the same issue.

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