EPA Sued for Dragging Feet on Anti-Smog Plans

The agency missed its deadline to approve two states’ proposals to reduce oil and gas emissions in order to come into compliance with air quality standards that are over a decade old.

Smog in Los Angeles. (Image by David Mark from Pixabay via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — More than 26 million people live under some of the worst smog in the country in Chicago, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Coachella Valley, San Joaquin Valley and Ventura County — areas where the Environmental Protection Agency missed the deadline to approve concrete smog-reduction measures. 

Environmental groups sued the EPA in San Francisco federal court on Wednesday for failing to approve Illinois and California’s proposals to reduce smog in these six areas before their one-year deadline. 

“It’s important because once the EPA issues approval or disapproval, you actually have enforceable measures,” said Ashley Bruner, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the lawsuit alongside the Center for Environmental Health. “And we don’t have that yet.”

Many states are out of compliance with the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), and have been designated as “nonattainment” areas for ozone. When a state is out of compliance, they are required to submit a proposal to the EPA on how to reduce oil and methane gas emissions — the largest industrial sources of volatile organic compounds contributing to smog — which the EPA then either approves or disapproves. 

But the EPA still hasn’t approved the two states’ proposals to come into compliance with air quality standards that were set more than a decade ago. 

The EPA strengthened the NAAQS in 2008, but it wasn’t until 2012 that the EPA designated nonattainment status to the areas that were out of compliance with 2008 standards. In 2016, the EPA issued guidance to control oil and gas emissions and gave noncompliant states two years to submit their proposals to reduce emissions and fall into compliance. In many cases, states met their 2018 and 2019 deadlines, though some didn’t. 

The EPA made decisions on many states’ proposals, but failed to approve or disapprove California’s proposals by June 11, 2020, and Illinois’ proposal for Chicago by July 10, 2020. 

“It has been more than 12 months since these submittals were found administratively complete by EPA or deemed administratively complete by operation of law. Yet, EPA has not taken final action approving or disapproving, in full or part, these submittals,” the lawsuit states. “Therefore, EPA is in violation of its mandatory duty to take final action to approve or disapprove, in full or part, the submittals.”

The public doesn’t know what the proposals consist of until the EPA makes a decision, Bruner said. Only after a decision is made does the proposal go out for notice and public comment. 

In 2016, the EPA said that the plans must be implemented by Jan. 21, 2021, and estimated that if every state implemented its recommendations, smog would be reduced by about 80,000 tons per year. 

Smog causes asthma attacks and aggravates respiratory disease, disproportionately affecting children, old adults, families with lower income and minorities. Each year that smog violates the national standards, 390,000 more asthma attacks occur in children nationwide — and 160,000 in California alone. 

When reached for comment, an EPA spokesperson cited its policy to not comment on pending litigation. 

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