POLITICS: PennAve

Environmental groups file court motion seeking EPA action on ozone standard

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Sierra Club,EPA,PennAve,Energy and Environment,Zack Colman,Air Pollution

Several public health and environmental groups filed a motion Tuesday in federal court in an attempt to force the Environmental Protection Agency to propose delayed standards for ozone, which causes smog.

If honored, the move would establish a December 2014 deadline for the EPA propose a standard and October 2015 date to finalize it.

The American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club, all of which were represented by Earthjustice, filed the motion of summary judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. It follows a request for an injunction from those groups in the same court in June.

Federal law requires the EPA to review standards for ozone pollution, which occurs when hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide from power plants, fuel exhausts and other sources combine with sunlight, every five years. The most recent revision came in March 2008, when former President George W. Bush set the standard at 0.75 parts per million.

President Obama pulled back on issuing a new standard in September 2011 following lobbying from industry groups and opposition from Republicans, who argued that tightening ozone restrictions would harm a fragile economy.

The EPA did not return a request for comment Tuesday.

Opponents of more stringent ozone standards have objected to tactics that would compel action through the courts. Those groups, which include the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have called that strategy "sue and settle," which they say involves environmental groups bringing action against federal agencies and settling the matter out of court.

"[A]dvocacy groups have turned 'sue and settle' into a major policy tool to advance their agendas, inducing agencies to issue more than 100 key rules since 2009. These settlements all occurred without notifying or allowing key stakeholders — the public, the states, the regulated community or Congress — to participate," William Kovacs, senior vice president for the environment, technology and regulatory affairs with the U.S. Chamber, said in a December editorial.

But supporters say the more stringent rule is necessary because ozone pollution causes respiratory and heart damage that cause billions of dollars worth in medical costs.

They say the EPA is long overdue for moving on the standard. The agency's outside experts recommended lowering to between 0.60 and 0.70 parts per million, which it included in a preliminary 2010 proposal.

"The stakes are high for those most at risk from unhealthy levels of ozone. Children and people with lung diseases such as asthma are especially vulnerable. Even healthy adults who work or exercise outdoors may be harmed," the American Lung Association said in a statement.

This story was first published on Jan. 21 at 9:51 p.m.

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