A federal judge has ordered a major step towards clean air for residents of our nation’s capital by requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to finally approve or disapprove smog reduction plans for the Washington, D.C. region by May 3, 2005. The decision marks the fourth time in three years that Earthjustice, representing Sierra Club, has obtained court decisions requiring stronger EPA action on the metro area’s polluted air. U.S. District Judge James Robertson said the court-ordered deadline was warranted because of “EPA’s unblemished record of nonperformance” under the Clean Air Act.
“What we have been saying is that it’s time for EPA to take a hard look at the proposed air quality plans and decide whether they go far enough – that they actually reduce the air pollution that is making people sick,” said Chris Carney, spokesperson for Sierra Club’s Metro D.C. office. “This decision will promote cleaner air for thousands of residents living and working in our nation’s capitol.”
The groups last December filed litigation against the Environmental Protection Agency over the agency’s failure to act on plans for cleaner air in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The District, Maryland and Virginia are required by the Clean Air Act to develop plans that clean up dangerous amounts of ozone, or smog, in the region. EPA is also required to approve or disapprove the plan based on explicit deadlines in the law, which expired years ago. EPA’s failure to ensure that adequate anti-smog plans are in place threatens the health of millions of citizens living and working in our nation’s capital, the groups contend.
“Sometimes the air here is so dirty that children are warned to limit outdoor play.” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “Today’s decision requires EPA to get moving on this problem and protect people’s health as the law requires.”
Pursuant to the Clean Air Act, EPA has adopted national standards to protect public health from certain pollutants. One of these pollutants, ozone—commonly known as smog—is associated with asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing, and other respiratory illness. Higher smog levels in a region are often accompanied by increased hospitalization and emergency room visits for respiratory disorders. The Washington area has violated ozone standards for decades.
The 1990 Clean Air Act initially required the Washington area to meet ozone standards by 1999. After that and numerous other deadlines were missed and smog levels in the area remained excessively high, Sierra Club and Earthjustice filed a series of successful lawsuits against EPA over the issue. The courts held that antismog measures in the region were not strong enough, and that EPA had illegally extended clean air deadlines. Earthjustice filed the suit leading to today’s order last December, contending that EPA had still not taken all of the legally required actions to ensure that adequate anti-smog plans were in place.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America—a nonprofit patient organization for people with asthma and allergies—has ranked Washington, D.C. as the fifth worst place in the country for people with asthma. The foundation published the rankings February 2005, citing poor air quality as a main contributor to the region’s low position.
The court ruling, issued late yesterday, is yet another step towards guaranteeing clean air for residents in the Washington area, which includes the District of Columbia; Prince George, Montgomery, Frederick, Charles and Calvert counties in Maryland; and Stafford, Prince William, Fairfax, Arlington and Loudon counties in Virginia.
“Our region’s air quality plans address fundamental issues that affect the health of everyone who lives here,” Carney said. “Now Washington residents may finally get an air quality plan that gives us results: cleaner air.”
A copy of the judge’s memorandum can be found here.
A copy of the judge’s order can be found here.