Green Topics

Lawsuit Looms As Obama Delays Smog Regulations

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By Paula Melton


Ground-level ozone, the primary component of smog, is cause by motor vehicles, paints and coatings high in VOCs, and pollution from utilities and industry.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Environmental groups and public health advocates were stunned last week when President Obama announced he would not fulfill his promise to revise smog regulations. The American Lung Association (ALA) responded with its own promise to resume a lawsuit against the administration for failing to regulate dangerous ozone at levels recommended five years ago by researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In accord with federal mandates, EPA must review regulations on ground-level ozone (the primary component of smog) every five years and enforce new standards based on current scientific findings. The standards have been stalled at 84 parts per billion (ppb) since 1997, in part because the Bush administration disregarded a 2006 EPA review that recommended standards of 60 to 70 ppb. Bush instead proposed standards of 75 ppb, prompting the ALA to mount a lawsuit to force the administration to adhere to EPA’s scientific recommendation.

ALA dropped its litigation in 2009, when Obama’s EPA promised better standards. EPA repeatedly delayed making its final rule amid increasing pressure from industry lobbyists and Republican leaders, who argued the measure would be too expensive for the coatings industry, utilities, oil and coal companies, and the manufacturing sector. EPA finally issued a statement last week deferring the final rule until 2013—after Obama’s first term as president ends. In the statement, Obama claimed that since the rule would be reviewed again in 2013 “I did not support asking state and local governments to begin implementing a new standard that will soon be reconsidered.”

Critics have questioned the logic of this move, since it usually takes years after review for a final rule to be implemented. “The American Lung Association now intends to revive its participation in litigation with the Administration,” said ALA chief executive Charles D. Connor in a press release. Smog is linked to asthma and other respiratory diseases as well as premature deaths caused by long-term exposure.

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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September 7, 2011