Tens of Thousands Urge EPA for Bold Cross-State Smog Rule

Asthma and lung disease are at stake


Erin Fitzgerald, Earthjustice, efitzgerald@earthjustice.org

Over 80,000 people from all around the country submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urging the agency to issue a strong “Good Neighbor Rule” to reduce cross-state ozone pollution, or smog. The comment period closed yesterday at midnight. Now EPA will consider the public comments it has received and issue a final version of the Good Neighbor Rule, likely in late 2022 or early 2023.

EPA proposed the Good Neighbor Rule in March. EPA estimates that, if finalized, the Good Neighbor Rule will prevent more than a million asthma attacks annually and at least a thousand premature deaths. It will also improve the health of forests and waterbodies harmed by ozone and its precursor pollutants. More than 127 million people live in parts of the country that suffer from harmful ozone levels.

“Interstate ozone pollution is a serious problem that EPA and many states have consistently failed to address,” said Kathleen Riley, Earthjustice attorney. “EPA must listen to the tens of thousands of people who are urging strong safeguards to protect public health.”

Comprehensive legal and technical comments from a coalition of public health and environmental groups, also submitted yesterday, explain that EPA’s proposal represents a major improvement over previous cross-state ozone rules, which allowed pollution “hotspots” to persist, especially in communities of color and economically marginalized neighborhoods. The comments show that ozone pollution is worse than EPA has estimated, pointing to a need for greater pollution reductions, beyond what EPA has proposed.

“Cleaner air is essential to restoring the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Litigation Staff Attorney Ariel Solaski. “Airborne nitrogen contributes roughly one-third of the nitrogen polluting the Bay — and half of that pollution comes from outside its watershed. We urge EPA to finalize a strong Good Neighbor Rule that further reduces the impact of interstate ozone pollution on the Bay and people living in this region.”

“Over 120 million Americans live in areas where ozone levels exceed health standards,” said Vijay Limaye, climate and health scientist at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “We’re glad to see EPA taking steps to clean up this dangerous pollution that crosses state lines and setting specific limits on industrial sources so they clean up their act.”

“Air pollution knows no boundaries, and the millions of people downwind of power plants and industrial facilities should not be forced to breathe disease-causing smog pollution,” said Leslie Fields, Sierra Club national director, Policy, Advocacy, and Legal. “It’s past time the fossil fuel power plants and industrial facilities that are polluting communities — in particular, Black and Brown communities already living under the weight of dangerous pollutants — comply with strict air quality standards.”

While ozone is good as a protective layer in the stratosphere, ground-level ozone causes asthma attacks, other respiratory illnesses, and is linked to premature deaths. Ground-level ozone also damages plants and ecosystems, stunts tree and crop growth, and contributes to climate change. Formed by emissions from cars, trucks, power plants, and factories, ozone is also a greenhouse gas.

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