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Challenging Fees For Industrial Polluters in Southern California

Case Overview

Earthjustice is representing the Natural Resources Defense Council and Communities for a Better Environment in challenging a decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would relieve major industrial sources in the smog-choked L.A. region from Clean Air Act obligations to pay a fee for their emissions that contribute to ozone pollution in the region.

Los Angeles was one of two regions that failed to meet the 2010 deadline and was designated as an “extreme ozone nonattainment area.”  (EPA)

The health impacts of ozone air pollution—often called smog—are well documented, ranging from asthma attacks to deadly respiratory disease. The Clean Air Act set national standards for a reduction in ozone pollution, and imposed penalties for regions that failed to meet those standards by 2010. Fines on ozone-causing emissions would create incentives to limit pollution and provide funds to clean up the air.

Los Angeles was one of two regions (along with California’s San Joaquin Valley) that failed to meet the 2010 deadline and was designated as an “extreme ozone nonattainment area.” Rather than imposing the mandated penalties on stationary industrial sources, EPA instead decided to allow the local air quality district to take credit for fees collected from existing permitting programs in the L.A. basin. Those fees, according to EPA and the Air District would raise funds equivalent to the fines required of the biggest polluters.

The petition for review, filed February 12 in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, asks the court to overturn the EPA decision permitting the local air board to waive fees for industrial polluters. Earthjustice filed a parallel suit against EPA in October 2012, challenging the same EPA decision for the San Joaquin Valley.

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