14 States Sue EPA for Not Releasing Smog Data
By Bob Egelko
California and 13 other states sued the Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday for ignoring an Oct. 1 deadline to update the nation's map of areas with unhealthy smog levels, saying the delay is endangering children and people who suffer from lung disease.
"Lives can be saved if the EPA implements these standards," said state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, whose office filed the suit in federal court in San Francisco.
Environmental groups had filed a similar suit in the same court Monday. Becerra earlier sued the Trump administration on behalf of the state over the EPA's loosened regulations of pesticides and emissions of planet-warming methane gas, and for delaying new motor vehicle fuel-economy standards.
The EPA declined to comment on Thursday's suit.
The states, joined by the District of Columbia, said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is violating a law that requires the agency, every two years, to designate areas that exceed federal air-quality standards for ozone, the harmful gas produced in sunlight by pollutants from tailpipes and smokestacks. The federal Clean Air Act then requires state and local governments to take steps to meet the pollution standards.
The EPA last updated its smog map on Oct. 1, 2015, under President Barack Obama, and also toughened its standards by lowering the ozone level classified as unhealthy, an assessment it must perform every five years.
In California, the agency said, the reductions it was requiring would save between 115 and 218 lives each year, enable children to attend a cumulative 120,000 days of school they would otherwise have to miss in a year because of health problems and unclean air, and lead to as much as $1.3 billion a year in health-related savings.
The law required the EPA to issue a new map by Oct. 1, showing whether areas exceeded the pollution standard or caused others to violate it, but allowed the agency to postpone the deadline by a year if it lacked the information it needed.
Although the states have submitted all their pollution data to the EPA, the agency, now under Trump, announced in June that it was giving itself a one-year extension until October 2018, the states' lawyers said. They said the EPA backed off of the extension when sued by the same group of states and environmental organizations, and committed itself to this year's deadline but has not complied.
Instead, the EPA on Nov. 6 issued a partial list of areas that it said were not violating the ozone standards, and said it would announce the noncompliant areas "in a separate future action," without setting a timetable. The areas it has not yet designated contain more than half the nation's population and include densely populated regions with high ozone levels, the suit said.
By delaying the Clean Air Act's requirements for measures to reduce smog in additional areas, the EPA's inaction is causing "further harm to public health ... additional health care expenses," and "premature deaths," the suit said.
California and its local air districts are doing their best to control pollution, but "improvements become more difficult as the climate warms," said Richard Corey, executive director of the state Air Resources Board. "The U.S. EPA has been illegally attempting to avoid its obligations on this critical matter for months, despite having everything it needs to keep making progress."
(c)2017 the San Francisco Chronicle