Courts say EPA not doing enough to fight cross-state smog

Courts say EPA not doing enough to fight cross-state smog
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Federal judges dealt a blow to the Trump administration late Tuesday, finding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hasn’t done enough to limit cross-state air pollution.

A panel of judges for the D.C. Circuit Court, which includes a Trump appointee, ordered the EPA to come up with a new plan for how to address smog that travels to the densely populated Northeast, where states are failing to meet federal air quality standards. 

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The decision follows a similar ruling in a Wisconsin case a few weeks ago that said the Clean Air Act’s “Good Neighbor provision” compels EPA action.

The states that brought the case — New York, Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Delaware — argue the EPA hasn’t done enough to help them meet a 2021 deadline for reducing ozone pollution, more commonly referred to as smog. The EPA argued states are on track to meet those standards by 2023. 

“Those states pointed out to the court that it was irrelevant and insufficient for EPA to say ozone levels would be reduced sufficiently by 2023 because of course there is a two year disconnect,” said John Walke, clean air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

An EPA spokesperson said, “We are reviewing the opinion.”

Walke said the EPA historically has required downwind states to install better pollution control on coal burning power plants.

But this decision comes as the EPA is facing other legal challenges after replacing an Obama-era power plant pollution rule with one that critics say does almost nothing to stem pollution.

The ruling does note the EPA “still retains some flexibility” in how it may respond. That includes giving those Northeast states a one-year deadline extension to meet smog standards or arguing that it would be impossible to push through the lengthy bureaucratic process to reduce pollution in time to meet the 2021 deadline.

“The court gave them a pretty big out that they will run through because it’s the Trump administration,” Walke said, referring to numerous rollbacks undertaken while Trump has been in office. “But those options still place a burden and a responsibility on the agency to explain and justify its decisions in a rational manner. EPA was not even planning to do that before losing this court decision.”