Greens sue EPA over smog rule delay

Greens sue EPA over smog rule delay
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Environmental and health groups are suing the Trump administration to stop the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) delay of an ozone pollution regulation.

The groups, led by Earthjustice, said Wednesday that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt acted illegally when he decided last month to delay by one year the implementation of the Obama administration’s regulation.

“EPA’s delay flouts the rule of law,” Seth Johnson, an Earthjustice attorney who is representing  the coalition, said in a statement.

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“It’s illegal and wrong,” he said. “It forces the most vulnerable people, like children, people with asthma and the elderly, to continue to suffer from dangerous ozone pollution. The EPA is wrong to put its polluter friends’ profits before people’s health.”

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of legal challenges by greens, public health groups and Democratic state attorneys general against the massive, historic rollback of energy and environmental regulations by the Trump administration.

Many of the same groups suing Wednesday were in the group that notched a win last week when the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the EPA’s attempt to delay the Obama administration’s methane rule for oil and natural gas drillers.

The groups are hoping the same appeals court will look skeptically at Pruitt’s attempt to delay another controversial regulation.

“It is critical that [the] EPA implement the ozone standard as required by our nation’s clean air laws,” said Peter Zalzal, an attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund. “Moving forward with these protections will deliver life-saving pollution reductions and provide families and communities with clear information about the safety of the air they breathe.”

The EPA criticized the green groups for not being receptive to Pruitt's attempts to work cooperatively with them on ozone.

"Administrator Pruitt is willing to engage in constructive dialogue with all interested stakeholders," said EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman.

"This is an example of EPA trying to engage with environmental groups on what we believe are shared environmental goals aimed at protecting human health," she said. "Rather than engaging with us, these groups ran to the courts, what will likely prove to be a waste of taxpayer money by draining agency and court resources."

Ozone is a byproduct of various pollutants from burning fossil fuels. It is a component of smog and linked to respiratory ailments including asthma attacks.

Former President Obama’s 2015 rule reduced the allowable ambient concentration of ozone to 70 parts per billion, from the previous 75 parts per billion. Compliance would likely mean reductions in fossil fuel burning, which troubles the energy industry, manufacturers and Republicans.

In his previous job as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt was one of the lead litigants suing to stop the ozone rule. He is in the process of deciding whether to try to change the rule or repeal it.

Pruitt’s delay last month relied on a provision in the Clean Air Act that allows for such delays if the EPA has insufficient information to decide which areas in the country are in compliance with the new standard.

The green and health groups suing Wednesday said the EPA has all of the information it needs, since states submitted that data last year.

“EPA’s Designations Delay is devoid of any showing that the copious information already before the agency is somehow ‘insufficient,’ ” the groups wrote in their lawsuit. “Indeed, [the] EPA did not even attempt such a showing.”

— This story was updated at 12:15 p.m.