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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Neighborly Smog Blows Northeast States to Court

MANHATTAN (CN) — Polluted by air blowing into them from the Midwest and South, six states led by New York have filed suit, saying regulators dropped the ball on protecting the Northeast.

The federal complaint filed on Oct. 7 calls for the addition of nine states to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Ozone Transport Region.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is leading the charge in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, joined by his counterparts in the fellow downwind states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The states petitioned the EPA in 2013, claiming that the agency must control the pollution that blows from upwind states — namely, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Adding these states to the Ozone Transport Region, according to the complaint, would "result in a fairer distribution of the burden of controlling this pollution."

In addition to missing the 18-month window that the Clean Air Act gives the EPA to act on such petitions, the EPA has not responded to an April 2016 letter from the coalition about its intent to sue.

"The petitioning states expressed concern about EPA's delay due to ongoing harm to public health and the inability of the petitioning states to meet their attainment requirements," the complaint states. "EPA did not respond to the petitioning states' letter or take the requested actions."

EPA spokeswoman Monica Lee said only that the agency would review and respond to the lawsuit.

Meanwhile the coalition notes that, come December, its members will have waited three years for the EPA to decide whether its legal authority allows it to require that upwind states cut back smog pollution.

"As we have waited, the health of millions of New Yorkers has continued to be threatened," Schneiderman said in a statement. "Today, we are suing to force long-overdue action by EPA on this important petition."

Elevated levels of smog can cause a host of significant health effects, including coughing, throat irritation, lung tissue damage, and the aggravation of existing medical conditions, such as asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, and emphysema, according to a release from Schneiderman's office.

States outside and upwind of the northeast region are not required to, and generally do not, impose controls as stringent as those required of those within the region, according to the complaint. But Schneiderman argues that the Clean Air Act provides an opportunity for the EPA to add states when it has reason to believe those states are contributing to the federal standard for smog in the region.

Schneiderman wants a ruling that requires the EPA to provide for public notice and comment on the states' petition, and to approve or disapprove the petition, after considering public comment, by a certain date.

The 2013 petition and the April 2016 letter from the Northeastern states are included as exhibits with Thursday's federal complaint.

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