Another judge rules EPA must stop air pollution

The Gavin Power Plant on the Ohio River in Cheshire, Ohio, is fired by coal. (Photo provided — Wikimedia Commons)

For the second time this week, a federal district court ruled against the U.S. Environmental Protection agency, saying the EPA needs to uphold the Clean Air Act.

Specifically, the court said the EPA must enforce the act’s “good neighbor” provision, which requires the agency to stop smog emitted in one state from causing harm to residents of another state.

On Wednesday, a district judge ruled against the EPA in a suit filed by the states of New York and Connecticut. That same day, another district judge did the same with a similar suit filed in Maryland by that state as well as the Adirondack Council, Environmental Defense Fund and Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“This is a victory for the lakes and forests of the Adirondacks and for everyone who wants clean air to breathe,” Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway said in a press release regarding the Maryland court ruling. “Congress ordered EPA to take action on smog and acid rain long ago. The current EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, has taken the unprecedented step of refusing to act.

“We are pleased that the court has reminded him to obey the law.”

John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council said, “We are very pleased to see the U.S. District Court order the EPA to take seriously the deadlines in the smog case that is pending. We are disappointed that the agency has delayed for over a year already on its obligation to turn on pollution controls that would make a huge difference in air quality here in the Northeast.”

Sheehan said EDF’s help in the case has been invaluable. “It’s an interim victory in that we still have to win the whole case — to compel the EPA to actually do its job — but we’re a step closer to that now.”

EDF’s legal team noted that Wednesday was the fourth time this year that a court has ordered EPA to stop delaying actions to reduce smog. The three earlier decisions were as follows:

¯ On Feb. 7, a district court in Connecticut held that EPA had unlawfully delayed action on Connecticut’s petition for relief from the interstate pollution that contributes to unhealthy ozone levels.

¯ On March 12, a U.S. District Court in California ordered EPA to move forward with implementation of the health-based 2015 Ozone Standards. Ground-level ozone is a key component in smog. EDF was also a party to that case.

¯ On June 12, a federal district court in Manhattan found that EPA had violated statutory deadlines to issue plans to reduce interstate air pollution from five upwind states that causes unhealthy smog in New York and Connecticut.

The Adirondack Council said it sued to gain relief from smog created by what the environmental group described as “the 36 dirtiest coal-fueled power plants in the nation.” Those plants are located in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and they affect air quality from Maryland to Maine, including the Adirondack Park. The plants already have pollution-control devices installed but did not turn them on, and Pruitt refused to order them to do so, according to the Council.

In the Maryland decision, the court said it was “troubled by EPA’s apparent unwillingness or inability to comply with its mandatory statutory duties within the timeline set by Congress.”

The Maryland courts gave EPA three months to act on Maryland’s petition, which requests that EPA require that coal-burning power plants in five upwind states operate their pollution-control equipment to reduce contributions to interstate pollution that causes dangerous smog levels in Maryland and other areas of the Northeast, depending on which way the wind is blowing. The New York court required EPA to act on the Connecticut/New York petition by Dec. 6.

Last week, EPA issued a notice proposing to deny Maryland’s petition and a similar petition from Delaware. The agency will accept public comment on that proposal until July 23, and will hold a public hearing on the proposal on June 22 in Washington, D.C.

Also, late last year EPA issued a rule delaying by a year its obligations to designate ozone attainment and non-attainment areas — only to withdraw the rule shortly after being sued by multiple states and environmental groups, including the EDF.

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