The appeals court found the plans were completely missing a variety of anti-smog measures required by the Clean Air Act, including stronger pollution limits for factories, annual emissions cuts, and steps to offset growth in car and truck exhaust. Yet EPA still has not taken action to formally disapprove the plans. Disapproval would lead to new deadlines for the imposition of federal pollution controls and sanctions around the Capital region, unless the deficiencies are promptly corrected.
"These delays are inexcusable," said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. "Washington area residents are exposed to ozone levels that can cause serious health problems, especially for children, senior citizens, and asthmatics. That's why we're pushing for full compliance with the Clean Air Act."
Exposure to ground-level ozone (or smog) is associated with asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing, and other respiratory distress, and is linked to increased use of medications, hospitalizations, and emergency room visits. Prolonged inhalation of unsafe levels of smog can reduce lung function and development in children, and permanently damage lung tissue. The Washington DC area has violated federal ozone standards for years, and the February appeals court ruling was the third one in two years holding that EPA has illegally delayed clean air requirements for the region.
"The residents of Metropolitan Washington have waited too long to breathe healthy air because of continued delays from EPA, and we're headed in the wrong direction," said Chris Carney, from the Sierra Club's Metro DC Challenge to Sprawl Campaign. "Politicians are approving billions for new, traffic generating roads like the Intercounty Connector when we still don't have an approved anti-smog plan. That's not the way to protect people's lungs."
The Clean Air Act required Maryland, Virginia, and the District to adopt adequate anti-smog plans for the Washington area by 1994, but their efforts have repeatedly fallen short. Last summer, the region recorded seven days of smog levels unsafe for children, senior citizens, and persons with respiratory ailments.
As a result of earlier Earthjustice suits on behalf of Sierra Club, the Washington region was reclassified from "serious" to "severe" for ozone in early 2003, triggering requirements for stronger pollution controls. Unfortunately, sufficient protective measures have still not been adopted, prompting today's lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.