Suit Challenges EPA Weakening of Anti-Smog Requirements

Groups seek to restore measures to protect public health


David Baron / Jared Saylor, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500

Conservation groups filed suit in federal court today challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s refusal to restore stronger anti-pollution requirements for some of the nation’s most polluted cities. The groups charge that EPA is allowing ozone pollution to increase in cities that already have unhealthful air.

The suit stems from EPA’s adoption of rules to implement a new “8-hour” ozone standard. The new standard is supposed to provide greater health protection, but the EPA rules actually let states relax key anti-smog measures required under the previous standard. Earlier this year, EPA rejected requests to reinstate the stronger requirements. Today’s suit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit (Case #05-1281, 05-1282) challenges that rejection. The suit was filed by Earthjustice representing American Lung Association, Sierra Club, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), and Environmental Defense.

“We’re saying they can’t possibly justify relaxing pollution controls when they’re supposed to be enforcing a stronger standard,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “Instead of cleaning up unhealthful air, these actions will let the air get dirtier.”

One of the requirements at issue is “new source review” – a Clean Air Act program barring pollution increases from construction of expansion of major factories in polluted cities. EPA’s rule lets states waive this requirement for potentially hundreds of factories, allowing pollution to increase hundreds or even thousands of tons over levels previously permitted. The EPA rule also lets states waive previously required pollution fees, and drops requirements for contingency measures that have to kick in when pollution control targets are missed.

Cities like Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Sacramento, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Milwaukee, Baton Rouge, Boston and the San Joaquin Valley in California could all face pollution increases under the EPA rule. The new 8-hour standard is currently violated in more than 450 counties nationwide.

Smog is often associated with asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing, and other respiratory illness. Higher smog levels in a region are frequently accompanied by increased hospitalization and emergency room visits for respiratory disorders. Hundreds of counties across the country currently have unhealthful levels of smog, which limits outdoor activities, increases hospitalizations, and puts millions of Americans at risk for respiratory problems.

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