In statement released late Wednesday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said, “We believe in dialogue with, and being responsive to, our state partners. Today’s action reinforces our commitment to working with the states through the complex designation process.”
The agency said that compliance with 2015 air-quality standards “will help ensure that more Americans are living and working in areas that meet” National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS.
Ground-level ozone, or smog, is created when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, oil refineries, chemical plants and other sources react in the atmosphere to sunlight. The NAAQS adopted by the EPA in 2015 reduced the allowed amount of ground-level ozone from 75 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion.
Pruitt had said in June that he was extending the deadlines to comply with the 2015 standards by at least one year while his agency studied and reconsidered the requirements.
Several pro-business groups are opposed to the stricter rules, including the American Petroleum Institute, the American Chemistry Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
On Tuesday, 15 states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia – filed a legal challenge over the delay of the stricter air-quality standards.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who was among the state officials behind the lawsuit, argued the EPA’s delay violated the Clean Air Act.
“Yet again the Trump EPA has chosen to put polluters before the health of the American people,” Schneiderman said on Tuesday. “By illegally blocking these vital clean air protections, Administrator Pruitt is endangering the health and safety of millions.”
Wednesday’s statement from the EPA noted that the Clean Air Act gives the agency the flexibility to allow one additional year for sufficient information to support ozone designations, and it may choose use its delay powers in the future “ to ensure that its designations are founded on sound policy and the best available information.”
Schneiderman celebrated the EPA’s position reversal in a statement Thursday.
“One in three New Yorkers breathe dangerous smog levels. The EPA’s reversal – following our lawsuits – is an important win for the health and safety of the 6.7 million New Yorkers, and the over 115 million Americans, directly impacted by smog pouring into their communities,” he said.
Schneiderman said the coalition of attorneys general will push to make sure the EPA finalizes the smog designations by Oct. 1.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., echoed Schneiderman’s sentiment.
“Failing to implement these protections would pose a very real threat to our public health and our economic productivity, keeping more of our workers and students home sick and exposing all of us to higher risks of heart disease, cancer, asthma and numerous other heart and lung conditions,” Tonko said in a statement.
According to the American Lung Association, over 115 million Americans breathe harmful levels of smog, which often travels far distances from other states with less stringent clean-air regulations.