Environmentalists Sue Over EPA’s Retreat on Ozone Rules

Frustrated by the Obama administration’s retreat on rules to crack down on smog-causing ozone pollution, five environmental and health groups have filed a lawsuit seeking tougher standards.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s chief, Lisa Jackson, two years ago called for a more stringent ozone standard to protect public health. But President Obama in September halted the effort. He said he wanted to reduce “regulatory burdens” and “regulatory uncertainty” while the country is sputtering economically — a refrain he has repeated often this year.

In a news release, the plaintiffs in the federal suit said the Obama administration’s move would keep in place “weaker Bush-era ozone standards that leave tens of thousands of Americans at risk of suffering serious health impacts.”

David Baron, a lawyer for Earthjustice, one of the plaintiffs, said, “Instead of protecting people’s lungs as the law requires, this administration based its decision on politics, leaving tens of thousands of Americans at risk of sickness and suffering.”

Earthjustice was joined in the lawsuit by the American Lung Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Appalachian Mountain Club.

As The Associated Press reports, documents released last week by the EPA show that it had wanted to lower the ozone standard from the George W. Bush administration’s 75 parts per billion level down to 70 parts per billion, which was at the high end of what was recommended by an agency scientific advisory committee. But, unless the new lawsuit is successful, the EPA will continue with the level set by the Bush administration while developing a new standard that would be delivered in 2013.

The White House said the EPA standard it rejected was based on outdated scientific evidence and that the agency’s other regulations would reduce smog.

Last week, in another concession to business, the Obama administration relaxed its Cross-State Air Pollution Rule for power plants. And, in February, the administration eased its clean-air rules for operators of industrial boilers and incinerators.

STUART SILVERSTEIN

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