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Court Asked to Order Deadline for Action on Overdue Smog Standards

Lives and health of millions at stake
June 19, 2013
Washington, D.C. —

A coalition of public health and environmental groups filed a lawsuit today asking the federal court to set a deadline for the Obama Administration to take action on overdue standards for ozone (or “smog”) pollution.

The lawsuit—filed on behalf of the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club—comes after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) missed the legal deadline to complete the review of these standards mandated by the federal Clean Air Act.

“Millions of Americans are being denied the health protection that doctors say is needed, and that the law requires EPA to provide,” said Paul Cort, an attorney with Earthjustice, the public interest group handling the case. “When the administration fails to follow the laws set out by Congress, it is left to those injured by inaction to ask a court to enforce the law.”

“Ozone is a harmful air pollutant that can inflame the lungs and leave people gasping for breath, and these health effects are especially harmful for children and seniors,” said Elena Craft, PhD, health scientist at EDF. “It is crucial that we move forward with a science-based standard that reduces smog and protects public health.”

The EPA’s science advisors and the nation’s leading medical organizations agree that stronger ozone standards are needed to save lives and prevent sickness. Ozone air pollution causes premature death, asthma attacks and other breathing problems, often sending people to emergency rooms and hospitals due to lung distress. Research now links ozone to increased risk of low birth weight in babies and cardiovascular harm. Children and senior citizens are at special risk, as are people with respiratory and cardiovascular disease. According to EPA estimates, more protective ozone standards could annually save up to 12,000 lives, prevent tens of thousands of asthma attacks and hospital visits, and prevent hundreds of thousands of lost school and work days.

“Congress told EPA to finish these reviews every five years for a reason—to keep up with the science,” said Janice Nolen, Assistant Vice President, National Policy, of the American Lung Association. “Americans want public health protections based on up-to-date science. Given the growing evidence that ozone can kill, delays can be deadly.”

Today’s action seeks a court-ordered deadline for EPA to complete its review of the outdated standards. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA was required to complete its review of the ozone standards last March. Legal action is considered a last resort, but without such a court-ordered deadline, history has demonstrated that delay in the necessary review is likely to continue.

“Once updated and implemented, the EPA’s smog standards will save thousands of lives and prevent tens of thousands of asthma attacks,” said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “But clean air can’t wait. The EPA must stop its dangerous delays and move swiftly to finalize this critical protection.”

“The benefits to our economic and physical health from a more protective smog standard are without question,” said John Walke, Clean Air Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “While polluters continue to rail against health standards with false and disproven arguments, the American people know better. It is past time to adopt stronger health standards that the overwhelming scientific evidence demands.”

Read the Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief.

Contacts

Paul Cort, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2077

Mary Havell McGinty, American Lung Association, (202) 715-3459

Eitan Bencuya, Sierra Club, (202) 495-3047

Sharyn Stein, EDF, (202) 572-3396

Elizabeth Heyd, NRDC, (202) 289-2424

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.