WASHINGTON (CN) - Playing Goldilocks on Thursday, a federal judge struck a compromise between regulatory molasses and environmentalists pushing for swift action on pollution.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper noted at the outset of his ruling that there is no dispute that the Environmental Protection Agency has shirked its responsibility to determine whether 13 sources of dangerous air pollutants require updated emissions standards.
Since the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review its standards very eight years, the Blue Ridge Mountain Defense League and three fellow environmental groups brought a complaint to force an update on leather-finishing operations and 12 other sources of hazardous-air pollutants.
Both sides proposed timelines for the EPA to reach compliance, and Judge Cooper opted Thursday to “order a compliance schedule that is more relaxed than that proposed by Plaintiffs, but more expedited than that sought by the EPA.”
Blue Ridge and the other plaintiffs had wanted to give the EPA just eight months to propose rules for seven of the overdue source categories, with final rules to come out after a year. They said the remaining pollutants could face proposed rules within 20 months, with final rules after two years.
The EPA on the other hand wanted to stagger the rulemaking over a period of four and a half years.
Cooper noted that “courts should be wary of agency arguments that more time is needed to improve the quality of soundness of the regulations to be enacted.”
"And if the EPA finds the schedule set by the Clean Air Act to be unreasonable, the agency's remedy lies with Congress, not with the courts,” he added.
Ultimately, the court faulted the EPA for not showing that a more expedited schedule would be impossible, and he faulted the challengers for having failed to prioritize each pollutant.
The EPA must complete “risk and technology reviews” for at least seven overdue source categories by Dec. 31, 2018. The remaining six are due on June 30, 2020. Cooper said he would defer to the EPA on the order.
A representative for the EPA did not return a call for comment on Friday.
In addition to leather finishing, the other pollution categories include iron and steel foundries, surface-coating plants, fiberglass-production centers and manufacturers of large appliances.
Citing an EPA report on Clean Air Act results, Judge Cooper noted that the United States has emitted "about 1.5 million fewer tons of pollution per year” since Congress imposed the updating requirements on the EPA in 1990. The reduction in air pollution over the past few decades has also increased average life expectancy by seven months in some U.S. cities.