Environmental advocates Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Communities for a Better Environment have challenged a decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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.
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 job of the Environmental Protection Agency is environmental protection,” said attorney Paul Cort with the public interest law firm Earthjustice, “but now EPA is invoking the right to waive a statutory requirement that is unpopular with the industries it is expected to regulate. This dangerous decision not only damages the effectiveness of ozone controls in Los Angeles, the state of California, and the nation, but it also sets an illegal precedent for EPA to ignore the laws it is supposed to enforce.”
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.