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Air begins to clear as EPA settles California smog lawsuit with environmental groups

Environmental groups settled a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over state implementation plans needed to meet air quality standards.

(CN) — Environmental groups struck a deal with the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday setting deadlines to approve state implementation plans addressing outstanding air quality issues in California and Colorado.

The Center for Biological Diversity first sued the federal government in August 2020, alleging it failed to act on state implementation plans designed to curb ozone pollution under the Clean Air Act. Plans submitted by the state of California for Kern County and the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District, as well as the Denver Metro and Front Range of Colorado, required approval or rejection from the federal agency to move forward.

If rejected, the EPA was required to develop a federal implementation plan addressing shortfalls in state proposals within two years, the 27-page consent decree explains.

The regions addressed in the complaint are home to a collective 6 million people, and very poor air quality. The Center for Biological Diversity links the thick smog in California’s Kern County and Coachella Valley to heavy oil production.

During the litigation, the EPA moved on several pieces of the submitted state implementation plans in question, while agreeing to deadlines for others, rendering many of the activists’ claims moot.

In the consent decree, the EPA agreed to take action by certain deadlines on wide-ranging policies, helping states meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The policies include controlling volatile organic compounds, or VOC, leaks from oil refinery equipment and gas trucks, regulations for ship building, and rules for the coatings on metal furniture, paper, film and foil.

“We are pleased that the EPA has agreed to take steps to reduce asthma-causing smog,” said Ashley Bruner, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement on the settlement. “As we transition to cleaner energy, we need to do everything we can to reduce the air pollution from fossil fuels."

The Center for Biological Diversity hailed the settlement as a win in the fight against smog and related health impacts including increasing forest fires and higher rates of asthma.

“Children breathe easier with less smog in the air,” said Kaya Sugerman with the Center for Environmental Health in a press release. “We will continue to ensure that the EPA puts the interests of kids and families ahead of the profits of polluters.”

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