As expected, public health and conservation groups have revived their effort to force the federal government to tighten ground-level ozone standards—an uphill battle that the Obama Administration retreated from just last month.
On Sept. 2, the Administration announced that it had instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw a long-delayed, much-disliked rule that would have reduced federal smog standards below those set by the George W. Bush Administration.
|EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson favored tougher limits, saying the Bush-era standard was “not legally defensible.”|
The decision to delay the rule indefinitely drew praise from the coatings industry, Republicans, utilities, oil and gas companies, and the manufacturing sector—but clean-air advocates warned that the issue was not over.
‘Illegal and Irresponsible’
On Tuesday (Oct. 11), the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Appalachian Mountain Club returned to federal court to make good on that threat, filing suit against the Obama Administration over its refusal to set the tougher standards.
“The rejection of stronger standards was illegal and irresponsible in our view,” said attorney David Baron of the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice, which is representing the plaintiffs.
“Instead of protecting people’s lungs as the law requires, this administration based its decision on politics, leaving tens of thousands of Americans at risk of sickness and suffering.”
The American Coatings Association, which represents coating manufacturers and fought the tougher ozone standards, had no immediate comment on the new litigation.
As unpopular as the ozone proposal was, more than political pressure is at stake in the dispute.
The ozone emission standards, which are subject to regular review, have been stalled at 84 parts per billion (ppb) since 1997. In setting a new standard of 75 ppb, Bush’s EPA rejected a recommendation by the independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) that the levels be set between 60 and 70 ppb.
Because federal mandates require that new standards be based on current scientific findings, the ALA and other groups filed suit to force the stricter standard.
That litigation was put on hold for nearly two years, however, as the Obama EPA worked to develop a rule that would comply with the CASAC’s recommendation. EPA Administration Lisa Jackson was a fierce proponent of the lower limits, predicting legal action if the Administration did not deliver them.
The former and current plaintiffs in the case agree.
“It is critical to move forward with a science-based standard that reduces smog and protects public health,” said Peter Zalzal, an attorney with Environmental Defense Fund.
“The Administration’s decision to reject a more health-protective standard for smog puts thousands of Americans’ lives at risk and ignores a unanimous recommendation by the leading experts on this issue, EPA’s scientific advisory board.”
Rejecting tighter ozone standards “jeopardizes the health of millions of Americans,” said ALA president and CEO Charles D. Connor.
The main component of smog and the most widespread air pollutant, ground-level ozone is linked to premature deaths, increased asthma attacks and breathing problems, especially for children, seniors and people with lung diseases.