EPA Loses Court Ruling After Failing to Identify Smog Nonattainment Regions

As a result of a federal court ruling on March 12, the Environmental Protection Administration will be compelled to do what it should have done by October 1: Identify regions of the country where the air quality violates smog standards.
March 18, 2018, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Last December, California, in conjunction with 13 other states and the District of Columbia, sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration after it's administrator, Scott Pruitt, ignored an October 1 deadline to identify regions of the country that are not meeting the 2015 standards for ground-level ozone, a harmful air pollutant, and a key component of smog. The EPA is required to designate nonattainment areas for ozone every two years.

"The designation is critical because such a finding requires state and local authorities to take immediate action to improve air quality and comply with ozone standards," writes Julie Cart, environmental reporter for CALmatters.

“The stakes are high,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has brought multiple lawsuits against the Trump administration.  “The smog-reducing requirements at issue will save hundreds of lives and prevent 230,000 asthma attacks among children. That’s worth fighting for.”

"Judge Haywood Stirling Gilliam Jr. of the federal District Court for the District of Northern California said Monday that Pruitt broke the law, and ordered him to publish the findings for almost all of the rest of the country by April 30," reports Timothy Cama for The Hill on March 12.

“There is no dispute as to liability: Defendants admit that the administrator violated his nondiscretionary duty under the Clean Air Act...,"  Gilliam wrote, citing a January court filing by the Justice Department acknowledging that the EPA missed the deadline.

The ozone case concerns a 2015 rule that set the limit for ground-level ozone at 70 parts per billion, a change from the previous 75 parts per billion.

Also, see Reuters' article on the court ruling.

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"The decision is one in a string of court losses the Trump administration has faced in its ongoing mission to change, delay or undo the Obama administration’s aggressive environmental agenda," adds Cama.

Other recent decisions have faulted the Energy Department for blocking energy efficiency rules and both the EPA and Interior Department for delaying methane regulations.

Regarding the energy efficiency rules, "environmentalists led by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Democratic states led by California and New York sued" after the Trump administration delayed setting energy efficiency standards for appliances including portable air conditioners, reported Cama on Feb. 15.

“This failure is a violation of the department’s duties under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act,” Judge Vince Chhabria, who former President Obama nominated to the federal District Court for the Northern District of California, wrote in the Thursday ruling [pdf].

Today’s ruling means that the Trump Administration may no longer block common-sense energy efficiency standards. This is a tremendous victory for the American people and for our planet,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D).

Becerra has been unusually active in suing the Trump administration on behalf of the state of California, not just on the environment, but also health care, immigration, LGBTQ, consumer rights, et.al. See CALmatters' interactive compilation of his office's prolific litigation.

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Current environmental litigation against Trump Administratioi that readers may wish to follow:

  • EPA scientists vs. EPA: "The Trump administration rolled out a new policy [Oct. 31, 2017] that states scientists receiving Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants cannot serve on the agency's advisory boards, a move critics decried as part of a war on independent science," reported Cama for The Hill last October. On March 12, Cama reports that the Justice Department asked the court to have the case against the EPA dismissed.

The case is being heard in the federal District Court for the District of Columbia by Judge Trevor McFadden, who was nominated last year by President Trump.

  • Children vs. Trump Administration: Climate Change: "The lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, was filed in 2015 on behalf of 21 youths who are accusing the government of violating their constitutional rights by failing to address climate change and continuing to subsidize fossil fuels," reported Nicholas Kusnetz for Inside Climate News last December. 

"A federal appeals court rejected the Trump administration's attempt to halt the landmark climate change lawsuit", ruling that the case can proceed to trial in a lower court," reports Kusnetz on March 7.

Full Story:
Published on Monday, March 12, 2018 in CALmatters
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