Court: EPA broke law with smog rule delay
The Trump administration broke the law when it missed a deadline last year in implementing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ozone pollution rule, a federal court ruled Monday.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was supposed to announce by Oct. 1 which areas of the country were in compliance with the 2015 Obama administration rule.
Pruitt later announced findings for areas that comply, but not for areas that do not.
Judge Haywood Stirling Gilliam Jr. of the federal District Court for the District of Northern California said Monday that Pruitt broke the law, and ordered him to publish the findings for almost all of the rest of the country by April 30.
“There is no dispute as to liability: Defendants admit that the administrator violated his nondiscretionary duty under the Clean Air Act to promulgate by October 1, 2017, initial area air quality designations,” Gilliam wrote, citing a January court filing by the Justice Department acknowledging that the EPA missed the deadline.
An EPA spokeswoman said the agency is moving forward on the designations.
“We look forward to working with co-regulators to continue the designations process for the 2015 standards for ground-level ozone; we are evaluating the information provided by governors in February 2018 as part of that process,” Liz Bowman said in a statement.
The decision is one in a string of court losses the Trump administration has faced in its ongoing mission to change, delay or undo the Obama administration’s aggressive environmental agenda. Other recent decisions have faulted the Energy Department for blocking energy efficiency rules and both the EPA and Interior Department for delaying methane regulations.
The ozone case concerns a 2015 rule that set the limit for ground-level ozone at 70 parts per billion, a change from the previous 75 parts per billion.
Ozone is a byproduct of pollutants from burning fossil fuels and a component of smog. It is linked to respiratory ailments such as asthma attacks.
In areas that don’t meet the standard, states must write up plans to reduce pollution and come into compliance.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who led the litigation, applauded the Monday ruling.
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admitted in this case that it failed to do its job and meet its deadline under the Clean Air Act,” he said in a statement. “The stakes are high. The smog-reducing requirements at issue will save hundreds of lives and prevent 230,000 asthma attacks among children. That’s worth fighting for.”
Environmental groups also welcomed the decision.
“Today’s court decision is a big win for the health of America’s children. It will help us protect families and communities by ensuring that EPA is moving forward to implement health-based protections to reduce smog,” said Rachel Fullmer, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund.
Green groups who sued the Trump administration over the ozone delay wanted a quicker deadline, while the EPA pushed for April 30, saying it could meet that timeline.
The EPA is under a different timeline for the area surrounding San Antonio because the Texas state government is submitting new information. That area’s deadline is October.
Gilliam was nominated to the bench by former President Obama.
Updated at 5:06 p.m.
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