SAN FRANCISCO (CA) — Anyone who has driven the length of Interstate 5 down California’s Central Valley knows just how bad the air pollution can be — a thick brown blanket hangs over the state’s agricultural heartland, obscuring views.
But a new agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and two environmental groups aims to get the ball rolling on smog mitigation efforts.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick Tuesday signed off on a consent decree between the Environmental Protection Agency, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Environmental Health, committing the federal agency to meet deadlines for reducing smog not only in California’s Kern County, but also in San Diego County, and in Texas’ Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Altogether, the agreement affects the air quality for around 10.6 million people.
In the case of San Diego County, the EPA determined as far back as 2012 that the county was in violation of the agency’s ozone national ambient air quality standards.
The Centers for Biological Diversity and Environmental Health sued the EPA in January 2022 after determining it had failed to ensure that the governments in the three different regions had plans in place to address their failures to meet smog standards.
“We’re pleased that people suffering from some of the nation’s worst air pollution will finally get some relief,” said Victoria Bogdan Tejeda, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a news release. “This agreement starts the process of ensuring that states and the EPA will do the work required by the Clean Air Act to clean up this dangerous pollutant.”
Tuesday’s agreement is seen by the plaintiffs as a way to deal with not only the pollution, but also to get the EPA back on track in making sure that communities affected by toxic ground-level ozone put plans in place.
The consent decree addresses a number of matters that may or may not become issues as the EPA seeks to get to work. Deadline extensions allow for possible lapses in appropriations; disputes between the parties are to be addressed in informal negotiations. And the court will continue to monitor progress “to enforce the terms of this Consent Decree."
“We shouldn’t have to sue the EPA to ensure that no one has to breathe air that fails to meet even the most basic health standards set by law,” said Kaya Allan Sugerman, illegal toxic threats program director for Center for Environmental Health. “But we are committed to making sure the agency does its job to clean up dangerous air pollution.”
In 2015, the EPA strengthened ambient air quality standards for ground level ozone — also known as smog — to 70 parts per billion, a move which the two environmental groups say could have substantial effects on the public’s over-all health, reducing health costs by up to $8 billion per year, as well as reducing the numbers asthma attacks, bronchitis cases, and the number of days kids miss school. It could also potentially help avoid nearly 900 deaths annually across the country.
Attorneys for the EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment by press time.
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