July 24, 2013

Court upholds air pollution code that was left as is

The decision marks a partial defeat for environmental groups, a dozen states – including Maine – and two cities that sued the agency in 2008 to strengthen the standards.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A federal court on Tuesday upheld a 2008 air pollution standard the Obama administration vowed to strengthen, but later reversed itself and kept in place.


Maine joined 13 other states in filing suit against the EPA in 2008 when the Bush administration set new standards for ground-level ozone that were tougher than the previous standards but not as tough as the states wanted.

Although it is a rural state, Maine is on the receiving end of pollution flowing up the heavily populated East Coast. Health officials are sometimes forced to issue air quality warnings for much of coastal Maine during hot summer days when pollution combines with sunlight to form ground-level ozone.

Although it is a critical part of the Earth's upper atmosphere, ozone can cause respiratory problems, especially among the elderly, the young and the infirm. Maine government officials and health advocates had said more stringent standards were needed.

"EPA standards for ozone must be updated so that they reflect scientific standards, not the politically-based standards that are currently in place," said Ed Miller, a senior vice president for the American Lung Association of the Northeast. "While the quality of our air has been improving as a result of cleaner emissions over the years, the current standard is still inadequate."

-- Kevin Miller, Portland Press Herald Washington D.C. bureau chief

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington rejected arguments that the ozone standard for public health set by former President George W. Bush was either too weak or too strong.

The Environmental Protection Agency's scientific advisory panel at the time said the standard should have been more stringent to adequately protect health.

But referencing Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the court on Tuesday said it cannot demand EPA get things "just right" when it comes to health.

However, the court ruled that the agency would have to revisit a secondary standard aimed at protection forests and other vegetation from ozone pollution.

The decision marked a partial defeat for environmental groups, a dozen states and two cities that had sued the agency in 2008 to strengthen the standards, only to resume the legal battle after Obama decided not to toughen them.

But the ruling was also a mixed bag for the state of Mississippi, which along with an association of industrial groups, argued against the standards because they were too stringent.

Ozone, the main ingredient in smog, is a powerful lung irritant that can cause asthma and other lung ailments.

Smog is created when emissions from cars, power and chemical plants, refineries and other factories mix in sunlight and heat.

The Obama administration proposed in January 2010 to tighten the smog standard at a cost of $90 billion a year.

But 18 months later, the White House tabled the plans after businesses and congressional Republicans said it would harm the economy.

A review of the standard was supposed to be finished this year, but EPA has missed that deadline.

The states and cities arguing for a stronger, more protective standard were New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island the District of Columbia and New York City.


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