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15 States Sue EPA for Delaying Clean Air Rules

According to the American Lung Association, more than 115 million Americans breathe harmful levels of ozone, which often travels far distances from other states with less-stringent clean-air regulations.

by Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.) / August 2, 2017
A smog-filled Los Angeles skyline, which has some of California's worst air quality. Shutterstock

(TNS) — New Mexico Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas joined with those from 14 other states Tuesday in filing a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency and Administrator Scott Pruitt for stalling the designation of areas impacted by unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone, known as smog.

Such designations are "vital to protecting New Mexicans from dangerous pollution, especially in Doña Ana County, which is receiving ozone pollution from El Paso, Texas and Mexico," according to an attorney general's office news release.

"Protecting the health of New Mexico families and seniors, our fragile economy and our beautiful natural environment is critical especially at time when President Trump continues to roll back regulations that protect New Mexico," Balderas said. "I filed suit against President Trump's EPA to protect the citizens and economy of Doña Ana County and all of New Mexico."

According to the American Lung Association, more than 115 million Americans breathe harmful levels of ozone, which often travels far distances from other states with less-stringent clean-air regulations. The designations, which Pruitt recently delayed for one year, play a key role under the Clean Air Act in addressing smog's serious threat to public health, triggering requirements for state-specific plans and deadlines to reduce pollution in the designated areas, the office stated.

The coalition of attorneys general in 16 states is challenging Pruitt's one-year delay in designating areas with unhealthy levels of smog as violating the requirements of the Clean Air Act, and as "arbitrary and capricious," according to the news release.

In October 2015, the EPA revised the national air quality standards for smog, strengthening those standards. The Clean Air Act requires the agency, within two years after issuance of new or revised standards, to designate areas of the county that are in "attainment" or "non-attainment" with these public health and welfare standards. In the case of the 2015 smog standards, the EPA was required to issue "attainment" or "non-attainment" designations by Oct. 1, 2017.

However, on June 28 of this year, Pruitt published a notice stalling the deadline for the smog designations for all areas in the country for one year to Oct. 1, 2018.

Given that New Mexico's proposed non-attainment areas are a net recipient of ozone pollution from outside the state, including Texas, increased stringency of controls in Texas would greatly benefit the citizens, economy and environment of Doña Ana County and New Mexico, according to Balderas' office.

"The designation of areas for national air quality standards is a key statutory obligation under the Clean Air Act — and for protecting the public's health," the news release states.

For areas designated as being in non-attainment for the standards, states must adopt "implementation plans" — a collection of actions that the state will undertake to reduce pollution in order to ensure standards will be met in those areas. The deadlines for submitting implementation plans — and for ensuring that air quality standards are met within designated areas — are both directly keyed to the date of EPA designations.

According to EPA, the 2015 updated smog standards will improve public health protection, particularly for at-risk groups, including children, older adults, people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma, and people who are active outdoors, especially outdoor workers.

The lawsuit suit was filed by the attorneys general of New Mexico, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, and the District of Columbia, according to the news release.

(c)2017 the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.)