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Health Groups Oppose Delay Over Stronger Smog Standards

Bid by Trump’s EPA to stall case could cost lives
Members of the California Nurses Association march to a rally outside the EPA's public hearing on updating ozone protections, in Sacramento, CA, on February 2, 2015.

Members of the California Nurses Association march to a rally outside the EPA's public hearing on updating ozone protections, in Sacramento, CA, on February 2, 2015.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
April 10, 2017
Washington, D.C. —

Public health and environmental groups called on a federal court today to reject efforts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to delay its defense of stronger smog standards that were finalized in 2015.

The groups filed their opposition to the delay Monday morning at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in response to a motion filed by the EPA late Friday, in which the agency asked to put off a scheduled April 19 court date for oral arguments over the smog standard.

Earthjustice attorney Seth Johnson, who filed today’s motion, said the following: “We oppose delaying this case because smog causes asthma attacks and people will likely lose their lives if we delay implementation of the more protective standard set in 2015. A delay would almost certainly stall key pollution reductions needed to protect people’s health. Smog is especially dangerous to kids, asthmatics, and the elderly, but even healthy adults are at risk.”

John Walke, Clear Air Director at NRDC, said: “The Trump Administration is trying to take away Americans’ right to breathe clean air. Smog pollution leads to asthma attacks, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis, among other health problems. President Trump is pushing baseless litigation mounted by Scott Pruitt before he was put in charge of EPA over the consensus of doctors and scientists. This is dangerous and NRDC will do everything we can to stop it.”

The 2015 smog standard led to multiple lawsuits over smog protections. Polluters and allied states, including Oklahoma, under the direction of Scott Pruitt who was then the state’s attorney general, sued the EPA for setting a standard they claimed was too strong. Several leading public health and environmental organizations, represented by Earthjustice, and some states including California and New York, joined the litigation to oppose the arguments the polluters and their allies were making. The groups represented by Earthjustice in opposing the polluter and allied challenges are the American Lung Association, Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In October 2015, following litigation by health and environmental groups for missing its legally required  deadline to review the ozone standard, the EPA established a more protective standard further limiting the amount of smog allowed in the air people breathe. The standard was strengthened from 75 parts per billion to 70 ppb.

The EPA estimates that, by 2025, the 2015 standard will save hundreds of lives, prevent 230,000 asthma attacks in children, and prevent 160,000 missed school days for kids each year. Although stronger than the prior 2008 standard, leading medical societies have found that an even more protective standard is needed to safeguard children, asthmatics, seniors and others.

Under the Clean Air Act, the standard must be based solely on scientific evidence about the impact ozone has on people’s health.

Ozone is a corrosive greenhouse gas, formed by emissions from cars, trucks and factories, which is linked to asthma attacks and can cause death in people. It also harms plants, stunting their growth and discoloring and killing their leaves.

In addition to defending the current standard, public health and environmental organizations sued EPA to further strengthen the standard, arguing that a 70 ppb standard still allowed smog levels that the EPA’s own scientific research showed harmed people and plants.  Earthjustice is representing the Sierra Club,  Physicians for Social Responsibility, West Harlem Environmental Action, Appalachian Mountain Club, and the National Parks Conservation Association in that challenge.

Read the motion filed today in opposition to the delay.