EHS Administration, Sustainability

Time to Strengthen NAAQS

According to a proposed consent decree filed by the EPA in the Federal Register, the Agency plans to finalize tougher ozone pollution standards for several large metropolitan areas by September 15, 2022.

These areas include Chicago-Naperville, Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin; Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, Texas; New York-North New Jersey-Long Island, New York-New Jersey-Connecticut; and Denver-Boulder-Greeley-Ft. Collins-Loveland, Colorado. On April 13, 2022, the EPA published a proposed rulemaking that would determine these areas “failed to attain the 2008 Ozone [National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)] by July 20, 2021 … All of these areas had been classified as Serious nonattainment for the 2008 Ozone NAAQS.”

The decree also references a July 14, 2022, proposed rulemaking that would determine the western part of Nevada County and all of Ventura County in California as having attained the 2008 Ozone NAAQS by the July 20, 2021, attainment date. Both areas were classified as serious for the 2008 NAAQS. The decree requires the EPA to sign a final rule about these two areas by December 16, 2022.

These locations have populations of almost 50 million people.

The consent decree was reached in the Center for Biological Diversity, et al. v. Regan lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The suit alleged that the EPA failed to perform certain nondiscretionary duties in accordance with the Clean Air Act (CAA) to timely determine the attainment status of the locations above with respect to the 2008 Ozone NAAQS.

“The EPA failed to reclassify the … regions … based on 2018-2020 monitoring data for the 2008 [Ozone NAAQS],” states a Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) press release.

“The EPA’s failure to complete a simple task like downgrading the smog rating delays protection for almost 50 million people against this toxic threat,” said Kaya Allan Sugerman, director of illegal toxic threats at the Center for Environmental Health, in the press release. “The ambient monitoring data shows these areas clearly have dangerous levels of smog that need to be addressed as quickly as possible.”

The CBD and the Center for Environmental Health also filed another lawsuit on June 7, 2022, in the Northern District of California to compel the EPA to enforce smog reduction measures in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and New Hampshire.

“The EPA is simply not doing its job to protect people and the environment from dangerous smog pollution,” said Camilla Getz, a law fellow at the CBD, in a CBD press release about the June 2022 lawsuit. “Regulators can’t turn their backs on the reality that smog pollution is a driver of catastrophic global warming and the loss of biodiversity, two of the greatest threats to human health and life on Earth as we know it.”

On July 5, 2022, the two environmental groups also filed a notice of intent to sue the Agency over alleged delays in failing to ensure smog reduction measures are put in place in San Diego, Placer County, Ventura County, Colorado, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania.

The EPA has determined that the areas covered in the legal notice have smog pollution at levels high enough to cause significant human health problems and ecological harm, according to the CBD press release about the notice of intent.

“Unfortunately, litigation is sometimes necessary to spur the EPA to take action to ensure we have clean, safe air,” Sugerman said.

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