Federal Suit Pushes EPA to Address Out-of-State Pollution Impacting NJ, Other States

Tom Johnson | February 10, 2020 | Energy & Environment
Environmental groups say Trump administration needs to prioritize smog problems brought on by upwind states
Credit: Pixabay
Lawsuit notes that four areas in five downwind states are classified as serious for persistent ozone pollution, including the New York-New Jersey-Long Island region.

In a federal lawsuit filed against the Trump administration, environmental groups are seeking an order to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clamp down on pollution from out-of-state power plants that exacerbate smog problems in 22 states, including New Jersey.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday, is the latest litigation filed to address the administration’s 2018 decision to take no further action to control emissions of ground-level ozone, or smog, from sources in upwind states until 2023 at the earliest.

Last February, New Jersey joined a multistate effort to hold EPA to a promise to impose stricter ozone emission standards from upwind states. Back in 2018, the agency reversed a commitment it had made two years earlier to reduce ozone pollution, largely coming from coal-burning power plants in the Midwest and South.

In October, a federal appeals court struck down an EPA rule that gave upwind states more time to curb emissions that foul air quality in those states.

New Jersey has never achieved the federal air quality standard for ground-level ozone, which is a pollutant that is unhealthy for children, the elderly and those with respiratory ailments. This smog forms during summer months when the sun bakes with a mixture of pollution emitted by cars, trucks, factories and power plants.

For years, New Jersey officials have complained that even with some of the most stringent pollution controls in the U.S., the state could never achieve the air quality standard for ozone, primarily because of upwind state pollution from the Midwest and South.

77% of ozone ‘is from upwind states’

In the lawsuit filed Friday, the environmental groups echoed those claims, noting that in the “eastern United States, on average 77 percent of each state’s ground-level ozone is produced by precursor emissions from upwind states.’’

The federal Clean Air Act includes a so-called Good Neighbor provision requiring states to control interstate pollution. But the lawsuit, filed by the Downwinders at Risk, Appalachian Mountain Club, Sierra Club, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, and Clean Wisconsin, noted EPA still has not filed regulations that satisfy its obligations to those downwind states.

Under the Good Neighbor policy, states must adopt plans that prohibit any source “from emitting any air pollutant that prevent downwind states from achieving the air quality standard for ground-level ozone.”

In the lawsuit, the groups want the courts to order EPA to require states contributing to downwind pollution to adopt and implement the necessary pollution reductions by May 2020 to comply with the national air quality standard.

The lawsuit notes that four areas in five downwind states are classified as serious in terms of persistent ozone pollution, including the New York-New Jersey-Long Island region. The suit sets a deadline for the court to mandate actions that help those areas achieve the standard no later than July 20, 2021.

EPA’s failure to act is harming millions of people who live in the areas that experience violations of the standard due to interstate pollution, according to the lawsuit.