Court Says EPA Must Do More To Curb Interstate Air Pollution


A three-judge panel that included a Trump appointee held on Tuesday that the EPA needs a better plan for addressing smog that travels across state lines from the midwest to the densely populated Northeast, where states are failing to meet federal air quality standards.

Why This Matters:  The EPA is failing to protect the public in the northeast from air pollution that is generated by coal power plants and manufacturing facilities in the midwest that travels with the winds and air currents into northeastern states who then are unable to meet their air quality standards.  This problem is EXACTLY why the federal government must be involved — and why the Clean Power Plan the Obama Administration put in place was so important.  Pollutants don’t stop at state boundaries and states must be required to be “good neighbors.”  Only the federal government can play that role and the court stepped in here to push EPA to help those states on the receiving end of the plume of pollution to meet their 2021 deadline for reducing ozone pollution by putting greater pollution restrictions on the emitting states.  It is EPA that is failing here.

States Are Suing Their Neighbors

This is the second of these “good neighbor” rulings in a month — a court in Wisconsin issued a similar ruling a few weeks ago, according to The Hill.  In this case, it was the states of New York, Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Delaware that brought the case against EPA.  The Court did offer the Trump Administration some flexibility to give the northeastern states a one-year extension beyond 2021 — which would be important for their ability to maintain their eligibility for transportation funding.  That was the issue in the recent case in California — failure to meet these air quality requirements can result in a loss of federal funds, but EPA must do its part in these cases where the states on the receiving end can’t do anything to stop the pollution that comes from outside their borders.

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday said,

“New Yorkers have a right to clean, healthy air. But the fact is, over two-thirds of New Yorkers regularly breathe unhealthy air due to smog pollution,” she said. “We will continue our battle to compel the Trump Administration to follow the law in our effort to fight this public health hazard and to uphold New Yorkers’ legal right to clean, healthy air.”

EPA’s Losing Argument

The EPA argued that the pollution issue was not a big deal because the northeastern states were on track to meet their air quality standards by 2023 — only two years later than required under the Clean Air Act.  In the past, the EPA has required better pollution control from coal power plants in the more western states — and this problem was part of the reason for the Clean Power Plan, which provided a more comprehensive multi-state solution.

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