Ozone Standards Challenge Filed

Environmental Groups Want EPA to Implement Stricter Ozone Standards That Ag Opposes

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Environmental groups have asked a federal court to force the implementation of a stricter ozone standard. (Photo by Nick Scalise)

OMAHA (DTN) -- A number of environmental groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week after the agency delayed the implementation of stricter national ambient air quality standards by one year.

In 2015, President Barack Obama's EPA proposed tightening the ozone standards of particulate matter from 75 parts per billion to as low as 65 ppb. That proposal drew the ire of 269 interest groups across the country, including agriculture groups who sent a letter to the president on July 29, 2015, opposing the changes.

In April 2017, the agency received a delay in ongoing litigation from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the 2015 standard.

The proposed tightening of standards was of particular concern to farmers and ranchers who already operate in regions of the country that struggle to meet NAAQ standards for ozone.

Many of those producers have had to work to reduce dust pollution on the farm as part of plans in place in what are called "non-attainment areas." EPA's proposal likely would expand the number of regions in non-attainment, requiring many farmers and ranchers to take additional dust-reduction steps.

In a lawsuit filed in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the American Lung Association, the Environmental Defense Fund, Earthjustice, the Clean Air Taskforce, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others stated, "Petitioners challenge the Environmental Protection Agency's illegal and arbitrary delay of action mandated by the Clean Air Act to protect people from ground-level ozone, a dangerous and widespread air pollutant."

"EPA itself has found that ozone causes deaths, hospitalizations, asthma attacks, emergency room visits, and other serious harms, and that the existing federal limit on its concentration in the outdoor air is inadequate to protect public health. Yet, in a preemptory action involving no public participation and only cursory explication, EPA recently extended its deadline for promulgating initial area air quality designations for the 2015 national ambient air quality standards for ozone," the lawsuit stated.

Earthjustice attorney Seth Johnson said EPA's action hurts children and the elderly.

"EPA's delay flouts the rule of law," he said in a statement. "It's illegal and wrong. It forces the most-vulnerable people, like children, people with asthma and the elderly, to continue to suffer from dangerous ozone pollution. The EPA is wrong to put its polluter friends' profits before people's health."

The July 29, 2015, letter to President Obama by groups opposing the proposed stricter ozone standards was signed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations, Corn Refiners Association, National Oilseed Processors Association, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Fertilizer Institute, and the Western Agricultural Processors Association.

In that letter, the groups said ozone levels had improved by 33% since 1980, and were expected to improve in the coming years.

The groups were concerned the stricter ozone standards could "close off communities across the nation to new jobs and economic growth, requiring reductions to near background levels in many places."

One of the issues the groups raised was that available emission technologies may not be suitable to achieve the even stricter standards. Further, the EPA proposal came at a time when many stakeholders already were struggling to meet the 75 ppb standard.

"We are bound by the limits of technological feasibility, and this regulation mandates controls that even the EPA admits are unknown," the letter said.

"When regulations push beyond the achievable, we lose the ability to innovate, create jobs, and unlock the next generation of technologies. The need for balanced government policies and reasonable flexibilities has never been greater, and no single regulation threatens to disrupt this balance more than EPA's ozone rule."

Read the lawsuit here: http://bit.ly/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley