Earthjustice applauded today’s federal court decision rejecting industry challenges to stronger air quality standards for ozone (smog) and fine particles (soot) and called the ruling a major victory for clean air and public health. The standards in question were set in 1997 by the US Environmental Protection Agency, which has estimated that each year they will prevent thousands of premature deaths, tens of thousands of hospitalizations and other illnesses for respiratory and cardiovascular causes, and millions of days of missed work and school.
“Industry is so eager to avoid cleanup, it has tied up these key public health standards in court for five years,” said Howard Fox of Earthjustice, which intervened in the litigation on behalf of American Lung Association to oppose challenges by industry and three states. “Now that the court has spoken, it’s time for industry to stop its multi-year obstructionist tactics and get on with the important job of controlling its pollution to meet these standards.”
EPA set new standards five years ago after an extensive scientific review led the agency to conclude that the prior standards were inadequate to protect public health against air-pollution-induced death, hospitalization, asthma attacks, and other harms. The decision to set more protective standards has received strong support from environmental and public health organizations as well as from various states including New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California.
Industry and three other states (Ohio, Michigan, and West Virginia) filed court challenges in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, resulting in an initial decision in 1999 rejecting many of their arguments, but ruling that EPA had acted unconstitutionally in setting the standards. This constitutional ruling was reversed in February 2001 by a unanimous US Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the DC Circuit for further proceedings, resulting in today’s ruling.
Two issues remain for EPA to resolve, however. First, the Supreme Court, though finding no fault with the standards themselves, ordered EPA to reexamine its proposed approach for implementing them. Second, the DC Circuit in 1999 ordered EPA to consider industry claims that smog allegedly helps human health by screening ultraviolet rays. EPA has proposed a response on the second issue, indicating that such alleged benefits are speculative and do not warrant weakening the 1997 ozone standard. The agency has not yet proposed any response to the implementation issue.
“The ball is now in EPA’s court,” said Fox. “The agency must move forward promptly to resolve the remaining issues, so that the public can finally reap the health benefits of these long-delayed standards.”