- A group of 15 states and the District of Columbia filed suit Tuesday against the federal Environmental Protection Agency, alleging an illegal delay in implementing ozone pollution standards finalized in 2015.
- In June, the Trump administration announced it would delay implementation of stricter standards for ground-level ozone pollution for one year, following an April decision from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay litigation on the rule. Environmental groups also filed suit in June seeking to stop the delay.
- In 2015, the Obama administration tightened standards for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion (ppb) from 75 ppb. Generators and business groups say the change could affect economic growth, and the Trump administration has said it would review and potentially roll back the rule.
Previous litigation on the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone pollution may be on hold, but the D.C. Circuit's docket is only getting fuller.
On Tuesday, the attorneys general of 15 states and D.C. filed a lawsuit at the court to stop the Trump administration from delaying the implementation of tighter ozone rules finalized by the Obama administration. Ozone, a main ingredient in smog, is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels and can cause respiratory problems, particularly in at-risk populations.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is supposed to designate areas in each state that fail to meet the new 70 ppb standard within two years of finalizing the rule. Non-compliant areas were originally slated for identification this month and finalization in October.
But in June, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt notified states that his agency would delay implementation of the new standard for a year, saying there was "insufficient information" to identify which areas comply with the regulation.
Designations of so-called non-attainment areas, "play a key role under the Clean Air Act in addressing smog’s serious threat to public health," the attorneys general said in a statement. States with such areas must design implementation plans to file with the EPA outlining how they will reduce pollution.
"The deadlines for submitting implementation plans – and for ensuring that air quality standards are met within designated areas – are both directly keyed to the date of EPA designations," the AGs said.
The 15-state challenge comes on the heels of a similar challenge from environmental groups in June, which filed suit to block the EPA from delaying the rule. And in the previous administration, generators and business groups challenged the rule, saying it would impede growth without delivering meaningful health benefits. That case was put on hold by the D.C. Circuit in April, pending the agency review.
Finalized in 2015, the 70 ppb standard was the most lenient option offered by a panel of EPA science advisers following a review of ozone's health impacts. Environmental and health groups pushed for a more stringent standard, between 60 ppb and 65 ppb, and the 70 ppb decision followed an extensive lobbying campaign from the utility industry and its trade group, the Edison Electric Institute.
At 70 ppb, the American Lung Association estimates the ozone rules could prevent up to 660 premature deaths and 230,000 asthma attacks annually.
The ozone rule’s impact on the utility sector is expected to be less significant than on the manufacturing or automobile industries. The dirtiest of the nation’s coal plants have largely been forced offline or installed pollution scrubbing equipment as a result of the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), finalized in 2014.