The Council, which includes representatives from Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, is required to adopt a stronger air quality plan to comply with a federal court decision obtained by environmental groups last July. In the case filed by Earthjustice, on behalf of the Sierra Club, a federal appeals court ruled that state and local plans to address the region's ozone problem were inadequate.
"Unfortunately, the Council is doing far too little to address some of the worst sources of air pollution in our region, including dirty diesel trucks and buses, and construction equipment," said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. "They're using Enron-style accounting to pretend the air is getting cleaner, when last summer was the most polluted in more than a decade."
In January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reclassified the DC metropolitan region as being in "severe" non-attainment of air quality standards for ozone pollution. The redesignation, prompted by a federal court order in a separate lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, requires stronger pollution controls for industry and transportation sources, as well as contingency measures to kick in if the region fails to meet clean air deadlines.
Earthjustice and Sierra Club contend that EPA is illegally allowing delays in adoption of even these new measures. The EPA has "conditionally" approved the very same plans that the D.C. Circuit found to be legally deficient last July, and has given the states at least a year to submit plans to correct these deficiencies. EPA also announced that it is letting the states delay until 2005 pollution reductions that the Clean Air Act required to be achieved by 2002.
"The residents of Metropolitan Washington have waited too long to breathe healthy air," said Sierra Club spokesperson Melanie Mayock. "As long as regional leaders fail to address the growth in driving caused by sprawl development, our air will never be healthy."
Earthjustice has filed a new lawsuit in the D.C. Circuit on behalf of Sierra Club challenging EPA's re-approval of the deficient ozone plans for the Washington area, and the delay in achieving pollution reductions.