For Immediate Release - August 02, 2017

AG Healey Sues EPA Over Unlawful Delay of Action to Address Harmful Ozone Pollution

Coalition of 16 Attorneys General Challenge EPA’s Illegal Decision to Delay Required Action to Protect Public Health from Smog

BOSTON – Attorney General Maura Healey joined a coalition of 16 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit in the United States Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for illegally delaying actions to address harmful ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog, as required under the Clean Air Act.

The attorneys general are challenging EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision last month to delay, by one year, the Clean Air Act’s requirement that EPA promulgate area designations for the 2015 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS, by October 2017. Under the Clean Air Act, the area designations delayed by Administrator Pruitt trigger statutory obligations and timetables for states to implement measures to reduce ozone pollution that endangers public health and welfare.

“By allowing this illegal delay, the EPA is exposing our residents to smog and other pollutants that pose serious dangers to public health,” said AG Healey. “As state attorneys general, we will continue to fight attempts by Scott Pruitt and the Trump Administration to rollback efforts to curb dangerous ozone pollutants.”

In October 2015, the EPA revised the ozone NAAQS, strengthening those standards. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA, within two years after issuance of new or revised standards, to designate areas of the country as having air quality that either meets or fails to meet these public health and welfare standards.  In the case of the 2015 smog standards, EPA was required to issue designations by Oct. 1, 2017. However, on June 28, 2017, Administrator Pruitt published a notice delaying the deadline for the smog designations for all areas in the country for one year – to Oct.1, 2018.

EPA’s own research has shown that implementing the area designations for 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.

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. 

AG Healey is committed to continuing her office’s longstanding advocacy for more stringent ozone standards that science shows are needed to adequately protect the health of Massachusetts residents. With a coalition of state attorneys general, AG Healey recently filed an amicus brief in a case pending in the D.C. Circuit to defend the 2015 NAAQS for ozone pollution. In April 2017, AG Healey also joined a coalition of attorneys general in sending a letter to Congress in opposition of pending legislation that would delay implementation of national air quality standards and weaken the longstanding review process for ozone and other pollutants that pose serious dangers to public health. 

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

This matter is being handled for Massachusetts by Assistant Attorney General Carol Iancu of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division.