The plan approvals mean that stronger anti-smog requirements will now be enforceable in federal court in the Washington area. Disapproval of the Maryland plan starts a clock for imposition of sanctions on the state if the plan isn't corrected.
"This is a move that residents of the Washington DC metro area have been needing for quite some time," said Chris Carney, spokesperson for Sierra Club’s Metro D.C. Office. "The D.C. area is being choked with polluted air. Although it doesn't go far enough, EPA's action requires the region to implement stronger measures to clean the air."
U. S. District Judge James Robertson ordered EPA to approve or disapprove regional air cleanup plans by May 3. The April 7 decision marked the fourth time in three years that litigation brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club resulted in court findings that EPA had illegally delayed air cleanup requirements. Judge Robertson wrote in his decision that the order and deadline were warranted because of, "EPA's unblemished record of nonperformance" under the Clean Air Act.
"The D.C. area sometimes has air that is so dirty that children are warned to limit outdoor play," said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. "The law requires EPA to protect public health and the environment, and today's action is long overdue."
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. Exposure to unsafe levels of smog can reduce lung function and development in children, and permanently damage lung tissue. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America -- a nonprofit patient organization for people with asthma and allergies -- has ranked Washington, D.C. as the fifth worst place in the country for people with asthma. The foundation published the rankings February 2005, citing poor air quality as a main contributor to the region's low position.
The 1990 Clean Air Act required the District, Virginia and Maryland to develop plans to clean up dangerous amounts of ozone, or smog, in the region. The law also required EPA to approve or disapprove these cleanup plans by specific deadlines, which expired years ago. The plans approved today require stronger anti-smog measures in Washington, D.C.; Stafford, Prince William, Fairfax, Arlington and Loudon counties in Virginia; and Montgomery, Prince Georges, Frederick, Calvert and Charles counties in Maryland.
Disapproval of the Maryland plan stems from a legal requirement that states promise to impose emission fees on large industries in areas that fail to meet the 1-hour ozone standard by November 15, 2005. Maryland refused to make that commitment. EPA has taken the position, however, that the fee requirement will no longer apply to areas like Washington after June 15 due to EPA's replacement of the 1-hour ozone standard with an 8-hour standard. Environmental groups disagree with EPA's position, and the issue is currently in litigation.
A copy of the published decicision on Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC can be found here.
A copy of the published decision affecting the metro Washington, DC area can be found here