Greens Drop SoCal Smog Suit After Air Clears

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Environmental groups voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after it deemed the Los Angeles-South Coast Air Basin is in compliance with particulate matter pollution standards.
     On July 8, the agency determined that the region attained the 1997 fine particulate matter National Ambient Air Quality Standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter a year and a daily standard of 65 micrograms per cubic meter, according to Tuesday’s stipulation.
     Plaintiffs’ attorney Elizabeth Forsyth, with Earthjustice, told Courthouse News that it was about time.
     “I think EPA and South Coast’s delay is not a victory,” she said. “We wish they had achieved the standard when they were supposed to back in December 2011. Already over five years have passed since the initial deadline.”
     Though the EPA’s data currently shows the region at 14 micrograms per cubic meter, the historic drought and the region’s notoriously bad air quality could mean a future dip into noncompliance, she said.
     “If the data shows that South Cost has failed to attain the standards in the future, we would pursue all available legal remedies,” Forsyth said.
     The ruling stems from an October 2014 lawsuit in which the Sierra Club and several co-plaintiffs claimed the EPA was shirking its duty to declare the South Coast region in violation of particulate matter control standards.
     Particulate matter refers to tiny, dirty particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter. Some are large enough to be seen with the naked eye, like soot and dust, while others are so small they can only be seen with an electron microscope, according to the EPA’s webpage on particulate matter.
     It comes from many different sources, including construction sites, agricultural activities, power plants, and diesel exhaust. Unlike larger particles, fine particulate matter can stay airborne for weeks or months and travel hundreds of miles.
     Exposure to this form of pollution can cause serious health problems, including respiratory illness, heart problems, and premature death in the very young and elderly. It also degrades water quality, kills plant life, and limits visibility.
     The most polluted areas in the nation for fine particulate matter are the Los Angeles-South Coast Air Basin and the San Joaquin Valley. People in these areas contend with multiple sources of pollutants and suffer the health consequences, such as higher rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, the plaintiffs said in their complaint. [prior coverage of complaint]
     Justice Department attorney Leslie Hill did not immediately return emailed comment requests sent Thursday morning.
     In May, the EPA defended its implementation of the Clean Air Act at oral arguments in a different case about California ozone levels before the Ninth Circuit. Among other things, Justice Department attorney Amanda Berman told the three judge panel that the agency has since developed stricter standards for measuring and controlling ozone levels than the 1997 standards the groups want enforced.
     The new standard, which the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld in 2006, limits the maximum eight-hour average ozone concentration to 0.08 parts per million, whereas the old standard limited the hourly ozone concentration to 0.12 parts per million.
     Berman argued that forcing air quality enforcers like the South Coast Air Quality Management District to split their attention between the two standards would be “counterproductive,” according to Courthouse News’s prior coverage of the oral arguments.

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