Judge Orders EPA To Act On Air Standards

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to complete its long-overdue review of air quality criteria and national ambient air quality standards for carbon monoxide by 2011, and to set interim deadlines to ensure the EPA does its job. The EPA is 9 years late on its deadline.

     Four environmental groups, led by Communities for a Better Environment, sued the EPA under the Clean Air Act for neglecting its statutory duty to review and, if appropriate, revise air quality standards for carbon monoxide, which it has not done since 1994, though it is required to do so every five years.
     U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White rejected the EPA’s argument that so long as it finishes the review within 5 years of being sued, it need only set a “reasonable” schedule at this time.
     Judge White noted that the statutory time frame began in 1990 and re-occurs every five years. White also concluded that the court may exercise its authority “to set enforceable deadlines both of an ultimate and an intermediate nature” when an agency fails to meet a statutory deadline.
     According to the ruling, the EPA’s failure to conduct the review is remarkable, considering that one of Congress’ express purposes in enacting the Clean Air Act was to “accelerate a national research and development program to achieve the prevention and control of air pollution.”
     White conceded that public interest would not be served by moving up the deadline so much that a full review would be impossible, writing that “courts should not impose an infeasible schedule upon an agency in order to punish the agency for its delinquency.”
     White rejected the EPA’s argument that the court can only issue an order requiring it to comply with the ultimate deadline for review, as that incorrectly attempts to limit the court’s authority. “So long as the district court’s equitable measures are reasonably calculated to ‘remedy the established wrong,’ they are not an abuse of discretion,” White ruled.
     While Write wrote that he is “hesitant” to set interim deadlines, he said he must, as so many years have passed since the deadline expired.
     He ordered the EPA to submit a revised schedule with interim deadlines by July 7, and to complete the air quality review by May 13, 2011, almost one-and-a-half years earlier than the EPA’s proposed completion date of October 2012 – but 12 years after the review should have been conducted.

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