Health and Environmental Groups Sue EPA Over Its Delay of Clean Air Protections for Millions

On July 12th, health, environmental and community groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop the agency’s delay in implementation of the 2015 smog standard. The groups asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to quickly throw out or block EPA’s illegal delay. The standard is a key life-saving health protection for millions of people in the United States.

The EPA estimates that, when communities meet the standard, it will save hundreds of lives, prevent 230,000 asthma attacks in children, and prevent 160,000 missed school days for kids each year. In June, the EPA announced it was delaying identifying the areas that must clean up their air because they violate the 2015 smog standard. This means polluters will escape the effective pollution controls the Clean Air Act requires.

“EPA’s delay flouts the rule of law,” said Seth Johnson, an Earthjustice attorney who represents a coalition of public health and environmental groups challenging EPA’s delay of the smog standard. “It’s illegal and wrong. 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.”

“Health professionals see more patients with asthma attacks and heart attacks on bad air days – and both of these are potentially lethal. Ground-level ozone is the most prevalent air pollutant in the U.S., affecting tens of millions of people. It’s a dangerous health hazard, able to cause permanent lung damage, exacerbate chronic lung and heart diseases, and affect fetal development. It poses a particular threat to asthmatics, children, and the elderly,” said Barbara Gottlieb, Director for Environment & Health, Physicians for Social Responsibility. “EPA needs to move forward quickly with these overdue protections.”

“EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt says he cares about healthy communities. But this delay leaves us questioning: which communities do you care about Administrator? Black and Puerto Rican children suffer from asthma, asthma attacks, and hospitalizations at a higher rate than white children. Black Americans are three times more likely to die from asthma, and more black women have died from asthma than any other group. Every time this Administration delays another lifesaving protection, it becomes very clear whose lives matter to them,” said Dr. Adrienne Hollis, Federal Policy Director at WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

“The actions of Administrator Pruitt threaten our national parks and the millions of people who visit them each year,” said Stephanie Kodish, director of National Parks Conservation Association’s Clean Air Program. “When visitors come to national parks, they expect to breathe fresh, clean air but places like Joshua Tree and Yosemite suffer from significant ozone pollution. Needlessly postponing the reduction of that pollution for another year only threatens human health, park plants and wildlife, and the multi-billion dollar tourism and recreation economy these places support.”

”This illegal action would expose Americans to dangerous amounts of smog,” said John Walke, Clean Air Director at NRDC. “EPA claims it needs more time, but this move is a dangerous step backward when it comes to cleaning up smog in communities. Just like EPA’s recent attempt to block methane emission reductions from oil and gas operations, this unwarranted delay will meet the same fate and be overruled by the courts.”

“It is critical that EPA implement the ozone standard as required by our nation’s clean air laws. 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,” said Lead Attorney Peter Zalzal at Environmental Defense Fund.

Ozone, the main component of smog, is a corrosive greenhouse gas that causes asthma attacks and can kill people. Children, asthmatics, and the elderly are especially vulnerable, but smog harms even healthy adults.

In April, the EPA sought time to review the 2015 smog standard, and obtained a delay in the ongoing litigation in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Public health and environmental organizations warned at the time that the EPA was likely to seek to delay and weaken the standard.

The EPA’s delay of the ozone standard follows on its delay of several other important public health and environmental protections, including the chemical disaster rule and protections against methane emissions from oil and gas operations. It can also cause serious harm to plant and wildlife, even on protected lands like wilderness areas and national parks.

Earthjustice is representing American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, American Thoracic Society, National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, and West Harlem Environmental Action.

In addition our partners on the suit include Clean Air Task Force (representing Clean Air Council and the Ohio Environmental Council), Environmental Law and Policy Center, and Environmental Defense Fund.

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