EPA’s Interstate Air Pollution Rule Should Be Bolder

More protection still needed for communities breathing smog


Erin Fitzgerald, Earthjustice, efitzgerald@earthjustice.org

Late Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the nation’s new Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, also known as the Revised CSAPR Update. This court-ordered rule, which was proposed under the Trump administration, requires states to reduce power plant pollution that contributes to unhealthy smog levels in downwind states.

While the new rule improves air quality by requiring coal-burning power plants to reduce emissions that cause the formation of ozone — the main component of smog — greater reductions are still needed. Because of delays by the Trump administration, the Biden EPA faces immediate deadlines to act under the more-protective ozone standard, issued in 2015, to address unhealthy ozone levels that persist across much of the country. The Biden administration needs to prioritize greater reductions in emissions from sources as soon as possible to truly protect communities from the harms of cross-state air pollution. 

The Biden administration’s approach to the serious problem of interstate ozone pollution is a test of its stated commitment to environmental justice. Millions of people in this country are exposed to unhealthy smog levels from the burning of dirty fuels, and the pollution is more likely to be severe in communities of color and low-income communities.

“While this rule includes some positive steps for public health, the Biden administration has more work to do to address ozone pollution. Communities are expecting more going forward from an administration that has promised to address environmental injustice,” said Earthjustice attorney Kathleen Riley. “We are encouraging the administration to achieve greater pollution reductions under the more protective 2015 ozone standard, and to restrict the use of emissions credit trading, which creates pollution hotspots in already overburdened communities. We and our partners look forward to working with the administration to make sure everyone breathes clean air.”

On Friday, a large coalition of public health, environmental justice, and conservation groups notified EPA of their intent to sue the agency to compel overdue action on state plans that are failing to control ozone pollution — a necessary step on the path to stronger protections from EPA. Earthjustice submitted the notice on behalf of Air Alliance Houston, Downwinders at Risk, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Appalachian Mountain Club, Earthworks, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Environmental Defense Fund. Clean Air Task Force, representing Clean Wisconsin, joined the notice.

“2021 marks the 30th consecutive year Dallas-Fort Worth has violated the Clean Air Act for smog,” noted Downwinders at Risk Director Jim Schermbeck. “Federal delay in enforcing it has cost lives for more than a generation. Washington should quit acquiescing to Texas’ excuses. If the state doesn’t have the will to bring clean air to the 4th largest metropolitan area in the country, the EPA should.”

While ozone is good as a protective layer in the stratosphere, ground-level ozone contributes to smog and causes asthma attacks, other respiratory problems, and is even linked to premature deaths. Ozone also damages plants and forests, stunting tree and crop growth. Formed by emissions from power plants and other sources, like oil, methane gas, and petrochemical facilities, as well as cars and trucks, ozone is also a greenhouse gas, so curtailing it is a powerful way to address the climate crisis.

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.