Federal Court Strikes Down EPA 2004 Ozone Rule
23 December 2006
In a unanimous decision, a federal court of appeals has struck down the Environmental Protection Agency’s ruling changing the 8-hour ozone standard, saying that the EPA violated the Clean Air Act by relaxing those limits.
Challenging the ruling in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals were the California South Coast Air Quality Management District; the Clean Air Task Force (on behalf of the Conservation Law Foundation and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy); Louisiana Environmental Network; a coalition of states including Massachusetts, Delaware, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia; the American Lung Association; Environmental Defense; Sierra Club; and Natural Resources Defense Council. Earthjustice argued the case for the petitioners.
Earthjustice argued that EPA’s action made no sense because it came after the agency found that the previous ozone standard was too weak to protect public health. Cities that were at risk for increased pollution under EPA’s action included Chicago, Houston, Milwaukee, New York, Atlanta, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Washington (DC), Beaumont-Port Arthur, Boston, Dallas, Providence, and San Joaquin Valley, CA, among others.
The 1990 Clean Air Act required stronger anti-smog measures in cities violating ozone standards, including limits on pollution from new and expanded factories, requirements for annual cuts in smog-forming emissions, and caps on truck and car exhaust. In 1997, EPA found that the then-existing 1-hour ozone health standard wasn’t strong enough to protect health, and adopted a new 8-hour standard to provide greater protection.
But in 2004, the agency adopted rules that weakened pollution control requirements for areas violating both the old and the new standard. That triggered the court challenge leading to the present decision.
The Court also rejected EPA’s decision to exempt many cities violating the new standard from the law’s most protective requirements. EPA argued that it should have discretion to apply weaker protections to these areas, but the Court held that Congress—frustrated with past failures to meet standards—required a stronger approach.
We therefore hold that the 2004 Rule violates the [Clean Air] Act insofar as it subjects areas with eight-hour ozone in excess of 0.09 ppm to Subpart 1. We further hold that EPA’s interpretation of the Act in a manner to maximize its own discretion is unreasonable because the clear intent of Congress in enacting the 1990 Amendments was to the contrary.
Because EPA has failed to heed the restrictions on its discretion set forth in the Act, we grant the petitions in part, vacate the rule, and remand the matter to EPA for further proceedings.—Circuit Judge Rodgers, writing the opinion for the court
Ozone is associated with asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing, and other respiratory illness. Higher smog levels in a region are frequently accompanied by increased hospitalization and emergency room visits for respiratory disorders. Hundreds of counties across the country currently have unhealthful levels of smog, which limits outdoor activities, increases hospitalizations, and puts millions of Americans at risk for respiratory problems.
DC Circuit Court decision
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