A Federal Judge has ordered Pennsylvania officials to strengthen a program to clean up air pollution from cars and trucks in the five-county Philadelphia area. Citing federal Clean Air Act requirements, the judge ordered state officials to start using stronger emission limits for vehicle inspections by next September. The order came in a suit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council.
Pennsylvania had promised to adopt stronger limits by 1998, as part of a plan to meet health standards for ozone (smog), but failed to follow through on its commitment. “The Court’s order is a victory for public health in the Philadelphia area,” said Joe Minott, director of the Clean Air Council. “The decision will mean cleaner, healthier air for everyone.”
The Philadelphia area has violated ozone standards for decades, placing thousands of residents at risk. Ozone is a severe lung irritant that damages lung tissue, reduces lung function, and causes symptoms such as chest pain, nausea, and pulmonary congestion. It has been linked to increased hospital and emergency room visits and asthma attacks. Children, the elderly, and those with lung ailments are particularly threatened.
“The time has come for state officials keep their promise to clean up the air,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “Their delay has not only violated the law, but also prolonged the public’s exposure to dirty air.”
Philadelphia’s approved clean air plan included a schedule for strengthening emissions testing in two phases. State officials instituted the first phase, but not the second. The Court held that this delay violated the state’s legally binding promise under the Clean Air Act to apply the stronger limits.
In legal papers filed in November, state officials asked the Court for the option of implementing a modified version of the stronger program that might be more accurate. The Court’s order allows for this option, provided that it is approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and fully implemented by next September’s deadline.
The stronger emission limits are expected to be more effective in identifying cars, SUVs, and light trucks that are polluting more than they should. The EPA has found that such enhanced auto testing programs are very effective in reducing ozone-forming emissions from motor vehicles.
The Court order was issued by U.S. District Judge Jan DuBois in Philadelphia last week.