Environmental Defense lawsuit forces EPA to protect public from smog

Settlement will benefit millions in California exposed to harmful smog levels

provided by Environmental Defense

nvironmental Defense and several other organizations have announced the settlement of a lawsuit forcing the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect more than 150 million people across the country from harmful air pollution by implementing the national ozone (smog) public health standard established in 1997. Since 1997, EPA has failed to put this standard into effect. The settlement requires EPA to determine and publicly declare which areas of the country violate the 1997 standard by an April 2004 court-enforceable deadline. To meet the April 2004 deadline, EPA and affected states nationwide will need to immediately take steps to evaluate air quality monitoring data and other information to determine which areas will be declared in violation of the standard.

    “EPA has strengthened the smog standard – based on a body of compelling medical research – to better protect children, seniors, people with asthma and other vulnerable populations from serious respiratory ailments,” said Nancy Ryan, deputy regional director of the Environmental Defense California office. “This settlement means that folks on all sides of the issue in California will need to work together and intensify our efforts to protect the public from the harmful health impacts of smog.”

    The 1997 standard is designed to protect children, seniors, people with asthma, and other vulnerable populations against decreased lung function, respiratory ailments, increased hospital admissions and increased emergency room visits for respiratory causes, inflammation of the lungs and possible long-term lung damage. In 2001, the US Supreme Court unanimously rejected industry claims that EPA acted unlawfully in basing the standard solely on public health evidence. EPA was required to declare which areas of the United States violate the standard more than two years ago. The proposed settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period before it can be finalized.

    At least two-thirds of all Californians – 21,150,000 people in 22 counties across the state – live in areas not meeting the more protective ozone standard www.epa.gov/airtrends/data/AQupdate2001.pdf). Implementation of the more protective standard will achieve important public health benefits for Californians by: (1) requiring communities that already have high ozone levels to further reduce ozone-forming pollutants, and (2) requiring new communities, including cities throughout the San Joaquin Valley, to begin curbing ozone-forming pollutants.

    Environmental Defense, a leading national nonprofit organization based in New York, represents more than 300,000 members. Since 1967 they have linked science, economics, and law to create innovative, equitable, and cost-effective solutions to the most urgent environmental problems. www.environmentaldefense.org.