15 states, including California, appeal EPA delay of stricter air-quality standards

Attorneys general from 15 states, including California, filed a legal challenge on Tuesday over the Trump administration's delay of Obama-era rules reducing emissions of smog-causing air pollutants.

The states petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to overturn Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's extension of deadlines to comply with the 2015 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Pruitt announced in June he was extending the deadlines by at least one year while his agency studies and reconsiders the requirements. Several pro-business groups are opposed to the stricter rules, including the American Petroleum Institute, the American Chemistry Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman, who was among the state officials who filed the lawsuit, said EPA's delay violates the Clean Air Act.

"Yet again the Trump EPA has chosen to put polluters before the health of the American people," Schneiderman said. "By illegally blocking these vital clean air protections, Administrator Pruitt is endangering the health and safety of millions."

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra recalled the days before many clean air protections.

“Too many children in our state have developed asthma and other preventable respiratory conditions that result from air pollution,” Becerra said in a news release. “I grew up in Sacramento knowing that I could drink clean water and breathe clean air. But in those days in Los Angeles, how many people my age can say the same thing? How many days began with smog alerts? How many kids grew up with asthma that could have been prevented? That’s why I’m taking action against the Trump administration today.”

Ground-level ozone can cause serious breathing problems among sensitive groups of people, contributing to thousands of premature deaths each year.

New York was joined in the case by California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, and the District of Columbia.

EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, has charged ahead with efforts to weaken, block or delay a wide array of stricter pollution and public health standards following his appointment by President Trump earlier this year.

Pruitt's delay of the 2015 ozone standards comes as Republicans in Congress are pushing for a broader rewriting of the rules. A House bill approved last month seeks to delay implementation of the 2015 rules at least eight years. The measure has not been brought to a vote in the Senate.

More than a dozen major health organizations oppose the GOP-backed measure, including the National Medical Assn., the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Assn. The head of the American Lung Assn. called the industry-backed bill a "direct assault" on the right of Americans to breathe healthy air.

Ground-level ozone is created when common pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, oil refineries, chemical plants and other sources react in the atmosphere to sunlight. The National Ambient Air Quality Standards adopted by EPA in 2015 reduced the allowed amount of ground-level ozone from 75 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion.

EPA estimated at the time that the $1.4 billion it would cost to meet the stricter standards would be far outweighed by billions saved from fewer emergency room visits and other public health gains.

The agency cited recent studies showing ozone at 72 parts per billion is harmful to healthy adults exercising outdoors. Children are at increased risk because their lungs are still developing and they are more likely to be active outdoors when ozone levels are high, the agency said.


UPDATES:

1:45 p.m.: This story had been updated with comments from Xavier Becerra.

This article was first published at 1:35 p.m.

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