Vermont sues EPA over ozone

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger
Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan has sued the head of the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to list regions of the country that have violated federal limits for ozone pollution.
EPA chief Scott Pruitt is not following the law, Donovan says, and his inaction will lead Vermonters to suffer from harmful air pollution generated by other states.
Ozone, which is caused by a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds, is also known as smog when found at ground level. The pollutant is a known cause of heart disease, asthma and bronchitis, among other ailments, and has been said to kill hundreds of Americans each year.
Pruitt was required by law to designate regions nationwide where ozone pollution exceeds the air quality standard of 0.07 parts per million put in place in 2015. The designated locations are known in EPA parlance as “non-attainment areas.”
Pruitt announced in June that he would not meet the Oct. 1 deadline and would give the agency an additional year to identify non-attainment areas. Under EPA rules, the federal agency is required to work with those designated regions to reduce ozone levels.
Within weeks after the announcement, Donovan and numerous other states’ attorneys general threatened to sue Pruitt for violating federal law. Pruitt then scrapped the extension and said the deadline remained in effect.
But Pruitt missed the October cutoff anyway because he said he needed more time to identify regions that are not complying with federal standards.
Meanwhile, the EPA has yet to make any of the required non-attainment designations, said Rob McDougall, chief of the Environmental Protection Division of the AG’s office.
Out of patience with Pruitt’s inaction, Donovan sued the EPA on Dec. 5 along with attorneys general or environmental authorities from the District of Columbia and more than a dozen other states: New York, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington. The case was with the federal district court in northern California, and a court decision will be binding nationwide.
Vermont suffers from ozone produced from factories, refineries, power plants that are upwind. Health warnings have been issued in recent years when pollution has threatened the health of residents, McDougall said.
Similar upwind pollution from fossil fuel emissions has caused acid rain and is directly attributable to Midwestern power plants. The emissions harmed trees and acidified lakes in Vermont.
The regions of the nation where ozone is coming from are not clear. The purpose of the federal law is to identify those areas.
The suit seeks simply to require the EPA to designate which parts of the country are considered non-attainment areas, as the law says Pruitt must, McDougall said.
The Vermont attorney general’s office does not anticipate the lawsuit resulting in penalties for the EPA or a financial settlement.
“Our goal is to get Vermonters the clean air they want and deserve and care about,” McDougall said.
“The goal here is to make them do what the law says they have to do to make, in the end, our air cleaner,” he said.
A non-attainment designation will require the state where it occurs to take corrective action, according to federal law.
An official at the EPA who declined to give her name said by email that “it’s EPA policy not to comment on pending litigation.”
Read the story on VTDigger here: Vermont sues EPA over ozone.