Greens Say EPA Lets Southern States Play Fast & Loose

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Environmental Protection Agency has let Mississippi and Alabama violate the Clean Air Act for nearly 40 years by failing to establish conflict of interest rules for officials involved in permitting who receive income from the industries they are supposed to monitor, three environmental groups claim in court.

The Clean Air Act requires that the majority of officials who approve permits or enforce orders in the states must represent the public interest and must not derive income from companies or people seeking permits.

It also states that any such conflicts of interest must be “adequately disclosed.”

“Mississippi and Alabama are almost forty years late in having these conflict of interest avoidance and disclosure requirements in place,” the environmentalists say in the federal lawsuit.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Environmental Health, and the Sierra Club sued EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Sept. 28. They say both states allow members of state boards to receive money from the companies whose pollution they allegedly oversee.

In 2015, the EPA rejected both states’ implementation plans for the 2008 eight-hour Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards, a regulation intended to reduce smog-creating ozone emissions.

States had to submit plans to the EPA on how it would enforce the rule.

The EPA rejected Mississippi’s plan because board members who issue permits there may accept income from groups that apply for permits, a violation of the Clean Air Act, the plaintiffs say.

The EPA rejected Alabama’s plan in April 2015 after determining the same thing.

Specifically, that “the state plan failed to include a provision which required that least a majority of members of any state board or body which issues air pollution permits or enforces air pollution restrictions do not derive any significant portion of their income from companies or people subject to the air pollution permits or enforcement orders and required that potential conflicts of interest of state boards and heads of executive agencies be adequately disclosed,” the complaint states.

More than two years have passed since the rejections, and the EPA has not implemented or enforced a plan for either state. The plaintiffs sent Pruitt an intent-to-sue letter on June 21 and have not heard from him since.

“Pollution in the affected areas threatens and damages, and will continue to threaten and damage, the health and welfare of plaintiffs’ members as well as their ability to engage in and enjoy their other activities,” the groups say.

They ask the court to order the EPA to create, implement and enforce a Federal Implementation Plan.

They are represented by Kathryn Amirphashaie of Leesburg, Virginia.

The EPA does not comment on pending litigation.

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