"We contend that this extension is not only bad for the health of our children and families, but that it's also illegal," said Baron. "In our view it's simply unacceptable for the residents of our nation's capital to continue to suffer the dangerous effects of air pollution, while waiting for government officials to require stronger local pollution controls."
The DC metro area has been in nonattainment for ozone -- also known as smog -- for more than 20 years. This means that the region fails to meet the federal health standard for ozone, as required by the Clean Air Act. EPA granted the region an extension to deal with smog pollution based on claims by DC-area governments that more time is needed to address air pollution transported to the area from other states. Earthjustice maintains that most of Washington's ozone pollution is locally generated. The group further contends that EPA cannot grant an extension without reclassifying the Washington area from "serious" to "severe," a move that would trigger stronger local pollution controls on factories and other pollution sources.
"The Clean Air Act promised citizens of metro DC healthy air by 1999, and the EPA, Virginia, Maryland, and the District have failed to keep that promise," said Glen Besa of the Sierra Club. "It is disgraceful that in our nation's capital we can't provide healthy air to residents and to the millions of tourists who visit each summer."
Ozone is a severe lung irritant that damages lung tissue, reduces lung function, and causes symptoms such as chest pain, nausea, and pulmonary congestion. The elderly, the young, and persons with asthma are especially vulnerable. According to some estimates, there are more than 225,000 asthmatics in the Washington area who are at special risk from ozone pollution, including more than 53,000 asthmatic children.
"We contend that the air pollution in this region threatens the health of thousands of residents," said Baron. "It's our position that the Clean Air Act requires stronger pollution controls in the Washington area right now."
In addition to challenging the deadline extension, Earthjustice charges that EPA illegally approved deficient clean air plans submitted by Virginia, Maryland, and the District. According to Baron, the plans lack legally required control measures and contingency measures, and also fail to assure annual cuts in regional pollution as required by law.