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Northeastern States Sue EPA To Protect Them From Ozone Pollution

Eight states in the Northeast are suing the Environmental Protection Agency, alleging that it is failing to fulfill its legal obligations to protect them from ozone pollution emanating elsewhere in the country.

New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont say that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is duty bound to protect states from ozone pollution that flows across borders — all part of the Ozone Transport Region. Their suit would require nine other states in the Midwest to be legally bound to reduce their ozone pollution levels — something that EPA Administrator Pruitt has declined to do. 

The EPA’s own studies demonstrate that pollution coming from other states contributes substantially to harmful levels of smog, especially in New York that is leading the suit:

“Millions of New Yorkers are breathing unhealthy air as smog pollution continues to pour in from other states,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, in a statement.  “The federal government has a fundamental responsibility to act. Yet the Trump EPA has abandoned its responsibilities – repeatedly failing to act to control smog pollution that jeopardizes New Yorkers’ health. Attorneys General will continue to act to protect those we serve.”

Congress created the Ozone Transport Region to help states address pervasive smog problems in the northeastern United States. Their complaint is that pollution from coal-fired power plants in the Midwest and Southeast blows their direction.

Ozone pollution is the direct result of burning fossil fuels and operating factories. Nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds form as a result, leading to ground-level smog. That, in turn, can cause respiratory illness in children and the elderly.

This latest fight is on top of the one that just occurred over whether to keep the ozone rules enacted during the Obama era, which went into effect on October 1. The current ozone rule sets the standard at 70-parts per billion — 5 parts less than it had been under the Bush administration, which is a stricter standard to meet. 

The Clean Air Act requires a review of the law every five years, although it does not necessitate that it be changed.

The Trump administration had wanted to rewrite or to delay the rules put in place by the Obama administration. To that end, manufacturers and oil and gas developers are saying it is too burdensome and that it is hurting economic growth. 

With that as background, Pruitt’s EPA has said that it would not add the Midwestern states to the broader ozone region. He has said the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is better suited to handle those types of emissions issues. That law requires utilities to limit their emissions from nitrogen oxide that leads to smog and sulfur dioxide that causes acid rain by forcing them to install new equipment. 

The National Manufacturers Association, the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute support EPA’s position. 

“States, along with business and industry, have been working hard to improve the U.S. air quality for many years,” the US Chamber of Commerce wrote“Indeed, ozone levels have decreased 33% since 1980, and ozone levels will continue to decline as states implement the 2008 ozone (ambient air standards.)”

Pruitt said that 85% of counties comply with the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone. The Congressional Research Service, however, said that about 40% of the U.S. population live in regions that do not yet meet the national standards.

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