Groups suing EPA for missing ozone deadlines under Clean Air Act

The environmental law firm Earthjustice today filed a notice of intent to sue (pdf) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for not adhering to the Clean Air Act and identifying communities endangered by ozone air pollution.

Based on the EPA’s own air-quality analysis, many communities in Colorado exceed the 2008 ozone standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb), including the Front Range cities of Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Greeley and Loveland.

Denver-based WildEarth Guardians filed a similar lawsuit against the EPA in late August and is gearing up to sue the EPA for not implementing other parts of the 2008 ozone standards.

Identifying the worst cities in the nation for ozone pollution is the first step in implementing mitigation measures, such as requiring better scrubbers on smoke stacks at power plants. The EPA has now missed two deadlines in a formal process called “designating nonattainment areas” – the latest on March 12.

“These delays are intolerable when people are breathing dangerous levels of ozone in these cities,” Earthjustice attorney David Baron said in a press release. “The longer the EPA puts off getting these cities on the cleanup track, the more lives are at risk.”

Earthjustice is representing the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association and Appalachian Mountain Club.

“This delay jeopardizes the health of millions of Americans, as breathing smog-polluted air can lead to coughing and wheezing, restricted airways, hospitalization and for some, death,” said Charles D. Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association.

Today’s lawsuit comes hard on the heels of last month’s decision by the Obama administration to rein in tougher ozone standards proposed by an independent group of scientists and backed by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.

In 2008, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASA) recommended compelling states and counties to enforce an ozone level of 60 to 70 ppb compared to the current level of 75 ppb set during the Bush administration. Jackson earlier this year said her agency would seek to set the lower standard ahead of a regularly scheduled review in 2013.

President Obama last month sided with industry in allowing the 2013 review to go forward and not accelerating the process. That decision drew the ire of both health care officials and conservation groups.