Skip to main content

Obtaining Stronger Smog Standards to Save Lives

Smog covers the city of Los Angeles, CA.

Smog covers the city of Los Angeles, CA.

Metropolitan Transportation Library Archive Photo

What's at Stake

In 2013, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit demanding that the EPA finally take action on overdue standards for ozone—also known as smog—an air pollutant linked to tens of thousands of premature deaths, emergency room visits and asthma attacks each year.

Case Overview

The air is easier to breathe today due to the protections provided by the Clean Air Act, but there are still over 140 million Americans living with areas that have dangerous levels of ozone pollution. Sometimes called smog, ozone is a highly irritating gas found to shorten lives and worsen asthma and other lung diseases. It also is highly damaging to trees and plants, causing major impacts to the nation’s forests and agricultural productivity.

In 2008, the Bush administration adopted standards that limit ozone in the air to 75 parts per billion (ppb). The standards fell woefully short of protecting public health, and top science advisors and medical organizations agreed that stronger ozone standards were needed to save lives and prevent sickness.

These standards adopted were far weaker than the unanimous recommendations of the agency's own science advisors, leaving public health and the environment at significant risk. Earthjustice challenged the 2008 standards on the ground that EPA's action was arbitrary and contrary to language and purpose of the Clean Air Act.

In a ruling in July of 2013, a federal appeals court held that welfare standards for ozone adopted during the Bush administration do not assure protection of forests and vegetation from ozone damage as the law requires. The court’s judgment found that in 2008 the EPA violated the Clean Air Act when it refused to set protective standards and ignored the unanimous recommendation of its independent science advisors on. However, the decision also upholds a health standard which does not protect the publics health that these same scientific advisors had found to weak.

In a separate but related case in March of 2013, EPA missed the statutory deadline for completing its required review of the 2008 ozone standards. Earthjustice went to court on behalf of the American Lung Association and other partners to hold the administration accountable for new ozone standards, demanding a deadline to take action. The U.S. District Court set a court ordered deadline for EPA to complete the overdue review and update of the national standards controlling ozone pollution.

These cases are the latest in a series of court actions by Earthjustice over more than a decade that seek stronger protections against ozone pollution.

Strengthening the standards to 60 ppb would save up to 12,000 lives every year, prevent 58,000 asthma attacks and avoid 21,000 hospital and emergency room visits, according to the EPA’s own estimates. And setting additional seasonal limits on ozone would provide protections that scientists and the National Park Service say are needed to protect forests and plants from ozone damage.

Related Features

Asthma Feels

Millions of Americans suffer from asthma; however, most people don't know how brutal it is to live with the disease. Breathing is a fundamental right, yet everyday air pollution is affecting millions of Americans' right to breathe.

The Right To Breathe

Every time you blow out a candle, every time you blow a bubble, you declare the right to breathe. Air pollution threatens that right. The Clean Air Act defends it. Everyone has the right to breathe. Clean air should be a fundamental right. Watch the Right to Breathe video.

A Success Story, with Many Chapters Still to Come

The Clean Air Act has substantially improved the lives of millions of Americans. Polluting industries have fought progress every step of the way. To protect your right to breathe, Earthjustice is working to ensure polluting industries don’t stand in the way of clean air protections.

Case Updates

April 30, 2014 | Blog Post

Court Demands More Smog Protection from EPA

For the second time this week, Earthjustice attorneys are celebrating a major clean air victory – this latest one dealing with our nation’s smog crisis.

April 30, 2014 | In the News: Associated Press

Federal Court Orders EPA to Adopt New Air Pollution Standards after Delays

A federal court has issued a deadline for the Obama Administration to update federal smog standards. The ruling followed an Earthjustice lawsuit against the administration for failing to meet a new standard by March 2013, as mandated by the Clean Air Act. “The court’s decision today will finally put an end to EPA’s foot-dragging on these important health standards,” said Earthjustice attorney Paul Cort.

April 30, 2014 | Legal Document

Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment

The EPA is ordered to issue a Proposed Rule based on its review of the national ambient air quality standards (“NAAQS”) for ozone in accordance with 42 U.S.C. §7409(d)(1) no later than December 1, 2014; and (2) issue a Final Rule based on such review no later than October 1, 2015.

April 30, 2014 | Press Release

Victory for Clean Air

In U.S. District Court late Tuesday, federal judge ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has to complete an overdue review and, update the national standards controlling ozone pollution also known as smog.

August 4, 2013 | In the News: Central Valley Business Times

Court rules ozone standards fail to protect forests

A federal appeals court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Air Act when in 2008 it ignored the unanimous recommendation of its independent science advisors and set smog standards that do not assure the protection of forests and vegetation from ozone damage. Unfortunately, the same court also decided to uphold a weak health standard for ozone—which has been found to worsen asthma and other lung diseases—that these same scientific advisors had found failed to protect public health.

June 19, 2013 | Legal Document

Ozone Complaint

Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief