Following a 2006 court order, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to require stronger anti-pollution measures in more than a dozen communities with unhealthy levels of ozone (commonly known as smog).
The proposal would subject power plants and factories in these areas to more protective pollution limits, require annual community-wide emission cuts, and trigger an additional round of stronger measures if the area fails to meet health standards by 2010.
The news represents a hard-fought victory for environmental and public health advocates who sued the agency for the stronger protections Earthjustice represented groups in the successful lawsuit, prompting the court order that led to EPA’s proposal late Friday.
“This is a long overdue step to protect people’s lungs and comply with the law,” said David Baron, the Earthjustice attorney who argued the case. “Doctors now tell us that ozone is even more dangerous than first thought. We urge EPA to finalize the proposal without delay, so people in these cities get the health protection they deserve under the Clean Air Act.”
Among the communities subject to stronger requirements under the EPA proposal are: San Diego, CA; Amador, Calaveras, Kern, Mariposa, Nevada and Tuolumne counties, CA; Denver, CO; Allegan County, MI; Buffalo and Jamestown, NY; Cincinnati, OH; Columbus, OH; Pittsburgh, PA; and Knoxville, TN.
Smog is linked to premature deaths, thousands of emergency room visits, and tens of thousands of asthma attacks each year. Ozone is especially dangerous to small children and senior citizens, who are often warned to stay indoors on polluted days.
The proposal addresses anti-pollution requirements for areas violating EPA’s 1997 ozone standard. The agency did not adopt rules to implement that standard until 2004, and those rules exempted most cities from the law’s strong “subpart 2” pollution controls. Earthjustice challenged that approach on behalf of the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club, and the U.S. Court Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld that challenge in rulings issued in 2006 and 2007. Industry groups asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the appeals court ruling, but the high court rejected that request in January 2008.
Under the stronger subpart 2 program, communities are classified as marginal, moderate, serious, severe, or extreme based on the severity and persistence of their ozone problem. Areas with higher classifications get more time to meet standards, but must also adopt stronger anti-pollution measures. Areas that fail to meet the clean air deadline for their classification must be reclassified to a higher classification.
Read the EPA’s proposal