EPA walks back delay of Obama air pollution rule

EPA walks back delay of Obama air pollution rule
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The Trump administration is reversing course on its plan to delay by one year enforcement of the Obama administration’s ozone pollution regulation.

The reversal, announced late Wednesday, came a day after 15 states and the District of Columbia sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), saying the delay exceeded the agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act. Environmental groups filed a similar lawsuit last month.

In a statement announcing the decision, the EPA emphasized that it will continue to work with states on implementing the ozone rule, which could include more targeted enforcement delays.

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“We believe in dialogue with, and being responsive to, our state partners,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in the statement. “Today’s action reinforces our commitment to working with the states through the complex designation process.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), who led the states’ lawsuit against the delay, said in a statement that he'll keep fighting, if needed, to implement the ozone regulation. “Our coalition of attorneys general will continue to take the legal action necessary to protect the people we serve — including making sure the EPA finalizes the designations by October 1, as required by the Clean Air Act,” he said.

Earthjustice, which sued the EPA last month over the delay, welcomed the action.

“The EPA’s hasty retreat shows that public health and environmental organizations and 16 states across the country were right: the agency had no legal basis for delaying implementation of the 2015 smog standard,” said Seth Johnson, an attorney with the group. “Implementing the safer 2015 smog standard will mean cleaner air and healthier people, particularly for those most vulnerable to ozone, like children, people with asthma and the elderly.”

Pruitt in June announced that the EPA would push back by one year its planned October 2017 decisions on which areas to label as being in attainment with the 2015 ozone regulation.

That rule lowered the amount of ground-level ozone — a component of smog linked to respiratory ailments — to 70 parts per billion, from the previous 75.

Pruitt justified the delay by invoking a section of the Clean Air Act that allowed such delays if the EPA does not have sufficient information to make attainment decisions.

The agency said in a Federal Register notice due to be published in the coming days that it misunderstood how much information it had to make attainment decisions.

“The EPA has continued to discuss and work with states concerning designations, and now understands that the information gaps that formed the basis of the extension may not be as expansive as we previously believed,” officials wrote.

“The EPA now intends to reassess whether there are areas with underlying technical issues, whether there are state designation recommendations that the EPA intends to modify, and whether for any area there is insufficient information to promulgate the designation.”

Previous administrations have used the delay authority, but usually in more limited ways.

The EPA is still reviewing the 2015 ozone rule for potential changes or repeal. Pruitt had sued the EPA to get the rule overturned while in his previous job as Oklahoma’s attorney general.

— This report was updated on Aug. 3 at 8:27 a.m.