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EPA ordered to set stronger smog standards
A federal appeals court has ruled in a case battling Obama-era pollution regulations that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must set stronger regulations on smog in order to protect the environment.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that while the EPA's current air quality standards for ozone are too weak to protect the environment, the standards do meet federal requirements when it comes to protecting human health.
Seth Johnson, an attorney who argued the case on behalf of Earthjustice, said the case gets to the heart of the Clean Air Act's requirement that the EPA protect forests and natural landscapes from the ozone damage that can inhibit their growth.
The EPA "must go back and fix its mistakes so cherished natural spaces like national parks can thrive," he said.
But advocates warned that a win for park was not necessarily a win for people.
"We are disappointed that the court failed to recognize the overwhelming scientific evidence showing ozone's potential to cause premature death, difficulty breathing, wheezing and coughing, and asthma attacks at levels previously considered safe," Harold P. Wimmer, national president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said in a statement. "Such evidence demands that EPA adopt stronger, more protective standards, not backslide on the progress being made toward cleaning up the air we breathe."
While ozone helps create a protective layer in the stratosphere to protect the earth from the sun's ultraviolet light, when at ground-level, the gas can contribute to asthma attacks and other respiratory issues.
The suit was initially brought by Murray Energy Corporation, one of the largest coal companies in the U.S.
Environmentalists and Democrats alike said the suit showed the importance of scientific evidence at trial.
Johnson said data from the EPA helped it make its case in portions of the suit, while a lack of scientific data hindered it in other areas of the case.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, agreed the court took that evidence seriously.
"As President Trump's EPA considers weakening science-based protections, that fact should give the agency pause as it goes out of its way to either dismantle science advisory boards, or fire independent scientists and replace them with fossil fuel lobbyists," he said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the EPA said it was reviewing the decision.
The court also rejected the argument from industry groups that the EPA should consider costs incurred by industry groups as they try to comply with regulations.
"The plain text of the [Clean Air] Act unambiguously bars cost considerations," the opinion said.
Johnson said he expects the EPA will have to consider human health as it reevaluates the standards through 2020.