Environmental and Energy Law Blog

Thursday, December 28, 2017

EPA Sued Over Ozone Levels

A number of environmental and public health groups have filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency claiming the federal agency has unreasonably delayed designating major metropolitan areas throughout the U.S., including Houston, out of compliance with the Clean Air Act (CAA), particularly regarding ozone levels.

"Delaying the remaining critical information is putting people's health and lives at risk,” said Harold P. Wimmer, CEO of the American Lung Association (a party to the suit).

Ozone Levels in the U.S.

Under CAA rules, the EPA was required to release its list of regions that failed to meet the 2015 ozone national air quality standards on October 1. The enhanced standards reduced the allowable ozone level for an eight-hour period from 75 parts per billion to 70 ppb.

After a delay, the EPA announced that 2,646 counties met the standards, but did not declare the remaining counties nonattainment areas, which includes the 15 largest metropolitan areas in the country. The lawsuit asks the court to force the agency to declare which areas are not in compliance with the 2015 standards.

That designation would trigger the tolling period for states to devise plans to improve air quality in those areas. It is also the first step in receiving federal funding for projects designed to reduce air pollution. Moreover, designating these areas which also foster the implementation of new air quality rules.  While these areas would be able to receive federal funding for programs to help replace high-polluting machinery and vehicles, there would also be restrictions. Currently, many areas across the U.S.,  including counties in Texas, require emissions testing on all registered vehicles.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, another party the suit, the place most affected by the delay in Texas San Antonio. Because San Antonio lacks nonattainment status, the metropolitan area is not eligible for state air quality funding. Other areas, such as Houston and Dallas are also in need air quality solutions. A key issue that is often overlooked in these debates, however, is the cost involved in meeting these standards and who will foot the bill.

The Takeaway

In the end, the goal of the new air quality standards is to reduce smog, which contributes to a wide range of health problems related to breathing, including asthma, bronchitis, and COPD. Whether the lawsuit will prompt the EPA to release the list of areas that do not meet the current ozone levels remains to be seen. The agency has not commented on the lawsuit or provided details for its plans to set the designations. In the meantime, resolving questions over compliance with the Clean Air Act requires the advice and counsel of experienced energy and environmental attorneys.


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