BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today, December 5, joined a coalition of 15 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit in the Northern District of California against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for illegally failing to address harmful ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog, as required under the Clean Air Act.
The attorneys general are challenging EPA’s failure to comply with the Clean Air Act’s mandate that EPA promulgate area designations for the entire country for 2015 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS, by Oct. 1, 2017. Under the Clean Air Act, these designations trigger obligations and timetables for states to implement measures to reduce ozone pollution. EPA’s failure to make all designations will therefore delay measures to reduce smog that endangers public health and welfare.
“Scott Pruitt’s continued failure to protect the public from dangerous ozone pollution is illegal, ignores the scientific consensus, and disregards public health,” Healey said, in a media statement. “We will fight this and other delays of needed clean air safeguards.”
Healey and 15 other attorneys general sued EPA and its Administrator Scott Pruitt in August 2017, in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, for trying to illegally delay the October 1, deadline by one-year, and the next day Pruitt reversed course and withdrew the agency’s illegal delay. However, the EPA then ignored the deadline and failed to issue designations by October 1.
On November 6, EPA issued some required designations but left much of the country, including many densely populated urban areas that suffer from the highest levels of ozone, without designations.
Ozone is one of six common pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act by national ambient air quality standards. Exposure to elevated levels of ozone can pose serious health risks including chest tightness, lung tissue damage, and aggravation of emphysema, heart disease, and bronchitis. Ozone pollution is also harmful to vegetation and crops by making plants more susceptible to disease and insects.
Smog forms when nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and carbon monoxide emitted from power plants, motor vehicles, factories, refineries, and other sources react under suitable conditions. Because these reactions occur in the atmosphere, smog can form far from where its precursor gases are emitted and, once formed, smog can travel long distances. This is why New England residents can be endangered by emissions from activities in upwind states and why designations for all areas of the country are important.
EPA’s own research has shown that fully implementing the 2015 NAAQS would save hundreds of lives each year, prevent 230,000 asthma attacks in children, avoid hundreds of hospitalizations and emergency room visits, and prevent 160,000 missed school days for children and 28,000 missed work days.
The lawsuit was filed by the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota (by and through its Minnesota Pollution Control Agency), New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
This matter is being handled for Massachusetts by Assistant Attorney General Carol Iancu of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division.