The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has illegally weakened anti-smog requirements for the Washington DC metropolitan region, environmental advocates argued in court today.
The Washington DC metropolitan area has for decades violated federal air quality standards for ozone, the major component of smog. In response to lawsuits filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Sierra Club last year, the EPA reclassified the region as a “severe” ozone non-attainment area under the Clean Air Act. The redesignation required stronger pollution controls for industry and transportation sources, as well as contingency measures to be implemented if the region fails to meet clean air deadlines.
Earthjustice, representing the Sierra Club, contends that EPA is illegally allowing delays in adoption of even these new measures. Regional air pollution cleanup plans prepared by Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia fall well short of what is needed for the region to comply with the Clean Air Act, the groups maintain. However, EPA has “conditionally” approved these plans — the very same plans that the D.C. Circuit found to be legally deficient last July — and has given the states until April 2004 to submit plans to correct these deficiencies. EPA also announced that it is letting the states delay until 2005 pollution reductions that the Clean Air Act required to be achieved by 2002.
“EPA needs to address our region’s dirty air now,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “Delaying pollution cleanup leads to continued exposure of Washington area residents to ozone levels that can cause serious health problems, especially for children, senior citizens, and asthmatics. That’s why we’re pushing for full compliance with the Clean Air Act.”
Exposure to ground-level 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. Prolonged inhalation of unsafe levels of smog can reduce lung function and development in children, and permanently damage lung tissue.
“The residents of Metropolitan Washington have waited too long to breathe healthy air because of continued delays from EPA,”said Sierra Club spokesperson Melanie Mayock. “EPA needs to acknowledge that metro DC’s air is severely polluted, and take effective action now to protect DC residents.”
The case is being argued by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club in the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [Sierra Club v. EPA, No. 03-1084 (D.C. Cir.)]