The Sierra Club and the New York Public Interest Research Group filed suit in federal court today in an attempt to force the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen air pollution regulations in 35 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands. The groups charge that the agency has illegally allowed the states to operate weak air pollution permit programs for more than six years, and that EPA must instead take over the permit programs in these states.
The permit programs are required by amendments to the Clean Air Act signed by President Bush in 1990. The law requires that major air pollution sources be regulated under detailed permits (sometimes called “Title V” or “Operating” permits) that are enforceable by citizens and EPA in federal court. The permits must spell out pollution limits, monitoring requirements, compliance schedules, and other provisions to implement clean air laws.
The amendments required states to adopt permit programs by 1993, but EPA found programs in many states to be deficient.
Defects found by EPA in the state permit programs include illegal waivers and exemptions, inadequate requirements for emission limits, lenient penalties, and improper barriers to citizens’ ability to challenge weak permits. Other deficiencies allow polluters to assert improper defenses, evade disclosure of violations, and avoid compliance with emission limits. A number of states fail to adequately provide for public notice and other public participation rights in the permit process. Interim approval allows all these deficiencies to remain uncorrected.
Instead of rejecting these programs, however, EPA simply used a provision in the law that allowed a one-time interim approval that should last no more than two years. At the end of the two-year period, unless the states had come up with an adequate set of regulations, EPA was to take over the program itself. Nonetheless, on May 22, EPA issued another blanket extension of the inadequate regulations in 37 separate jurisdictions – the fourth such extension since 1995.
“The Clean Air Act explicitly prohibits these delays,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron, who represents the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit. “The law required correction of all deficiencies years ago, and it’s inexcusable — not to mention illegal — to allow continuation of these weak programs. Clean air is essential for the health of every living thing. To play fast and loose with the law is deplorable.”
The states and territories affected by the suit are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington.