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Trump’s EPA Seeks to Delay Defense of Stronger Smog Standards

Hundreds could lose their lives under a weakened standard
Matthew Elliot of the California Nurses Association rallied outside the EPA's hearing in Sacramento, CA, on February 2, 2015.

Matthew Elliot of the California Nurses Association rallied outside the EPA's hearing in Sacramento, CA, on February 2, 2015. The nurses joined concerned community members to call for an ozone pollution standard of 60 parts-per-billion to improve the quality of the air we all breathe.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
April 7, 2017
Washington, D.C. —

The Trump administration has signaled it may try to drop the legal defense of a stronger smog standard in lawsuits by polluters and allied states.

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency asked a federal court to delay a long-scheduled April 19 hearing on challenges by polluters and others over the more protective standard, so the new administration can review the standard.

Attorneys for public health and environmental organizations think this request is likely an indication that the federal government will try to stop defending or weaken implementation of the more protective smog standard set by the EPA in October 2015.

“Smog is dangerous to kids, seniors, and asthmatics,” said Earthjustice attorney Seth Johnson. “The Trump administration is taking the first step toward tearing down a crucial protection against dirty air. We’re going to fight this in court. The science and the law won’t stand for Trump and Pruitt to roll back health protections.”

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 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. Public health and environmental organizations have sued arguing that an even stronger standard is needed. 

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.

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, that is linked to asthma attacks and can cause death in people. It also harms plants, stunting their growth and discoloring and killing their leaves.

The 2015 decision led to an intense legal battle 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. Some 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 Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the American Lung Association.

In addition, 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.