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Court Rejects Clean Air Label for Cincinnati

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency's designation of Cincinnati as a clean-air city is premature (at best) and does not comply with the Clean Air Act. The ruling came in a suit filed by David Baron on behalf of the Sierra Club and two individuals. The designation would have allowed air pollution restrictions to be relaxed despite some alarming numbers: The American Lung Association estimates that, in the Cincinnati area, there are 25,000 children and 46,000 adults who suffer from asthma, 20,000 people with emphysema, and 60,000 with chronic bronchitis. The main culprits are thought to be chemical companies, furniture manufacturers, and aviation and aerospace concerns.

Cincinnati has suffered from recurrent violations of federal health standards for ozone for several decades. More than 20 years ago, EPA designated the metropolitan area as an ozone 'nonattainment' area, meaning that it did not meet the basic requirements of a clean air city. This nonattainment designation triggered pollution control requirements under the Clean Air Act. The nonattainment designation remained in place until last year, when EPA redesignated the area as 'attainment' -- a move that had the effect of relaxing clean air requirements.

Earthjustice's suit challenged that action, arguing that the area still had an air pollution problem and did not meet all the legal requirements for redesignation. Cincinnati is therefore once again designated as an ozone nonattainment area. The effect of this decision is to reinstate the Clean Air Act's more stringent regime of controls applicable to nonattainment areas, including tougher limits on new major sources of pollution.

Earthjustice expects this decision may set an important precedent. EPA is moving to redesignate a number of nonattainment areas around the country that have not adopted all required controls and that are still at risk from ozone pollution. The court's decision should provide some guidance in challenging such actions. To view the opinion, click here.