Environmental Groups Re-assert Legal Efforts to Protect Clean Air

Following a series of delays in release of the ozone standard, several environmental groups have filed a motion with the DC Circuit Court to compel action from EPA. On August 8, 2011 the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation, and Appalachian Mountain Club filed the motion, requesting that the court establish a deadline for EPA to complete its reconsideration of the 2008 ozone standards. The motion claims that EPA’s national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone do not comply with the Clean Air Act’s mandate that standards be strong enough to protect public health. Furthermore, the motion asserts that the Agency’s excessive and inexcusable delay in reconsidering such standards frustrates the Court’s prior orders.

Why did the groups take this action?

EPA’s national ambient air quality standards for ozone do not comply with the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act mandates that NAAQS standards be strong enough to protect public health with a substantial margin of safety to protect against adverse affects on public welfare.  The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), the organization charged by the Act with advising EPA in setting NAAQS, has repeatedly stated that the ozone standard must be stronger than the .075 parts per million level adopted in 2008. The CASAC unanimously recommended that the standard be strengthened within the range of 0.06 to 0.07 ppm. EPA received this recommendation multiple times but has not moved to enact it.  By disregarding CASAC’s council, EPA fails to ensure that NAAQS standards are protective enough to safeguard public health, thus, not complying with the Clean Air Act.

Is this motion warranted?

A court ordered deadline for EPA’s reconsideration of the NAAQS standard is fully warranted. Without a legally binding deadline, the Agency cannot be relied upon to take timely and final action. This is demonstrated in their repeated failures to meet established timetables for finishing the reconsideration. At one point, EPA assured the Court that it was committed to completing their reconsideration by December 31, 2010. This commitment was not upheld. Clearly, only a court ordered mandate will ensure EPA action.

What will happen now?

Under the equitable power to ensure effective exercise of it jurisdiction, the Court has authority to review and issue appropriate orders relating to EPA. The Court is justified in requiring immediate EPA action because of the substantial health risks that the public faces when current ozone standards are inadequate and unsafe. Furthermore, an order requiring immediate action is justified to avoid further waste of the Court’s and parties’ resources stemming from continued EPA delays. We implore the court to protect clean air and compel EPA to action on this urgent health decision. The one in three Americans who is at increased risk for experiencing a smog-related health event are depending on it.

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