States sue EPA over ozone pollution standards

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York and 13 other states have sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, claiming it violated the Clean Air Act by not toughening ozone pollution standards enough in March, the New York attorney general said on Wednesday.

Vehicular traffic flows on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California January 2, 2008. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

“The EPA is charged with protecting the environment, yet the Bush administration has repeatedly used it as a tool for facilitating pollution instead of combating it,” New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a release.

In March, the EPA tightened ozone pollution standards a bit by cutting them to 75 parts per billion in ambient air in the United States, down from 80 parts per billion. Stephen Johnson, the EPA’s chief, said he complied with the U.S. Clean Air Act and with scientific data in setting the new ozone standard.

At the time, however, EPA scientists said the standards should be even tougher to protect against health problems from the pollution, a key component of smog that can trigger asthma and other breathing problems in the young and old.

The agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee had recommended a standard of 60 to 70 parts per billion for the pollution, can also damage plants and crops.

Industry groups had pushed for a higher level, citing costs of tougher regulations. They said that many counties hadn’t been able to meet the previous standard that had been in place for decades.

The suit seeks to overturn the “weak” smog standards, Cuomo said. U.S. clean air laws require the EPA to regularly review and update pollution standards.

The EPA did not immediately return calls about the suit.

Besides New York, the states or state agencies in the suit are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and Rhode Island.

New York City and Washington, D.C. also joined in the suit, which was filed Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia,

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Christian Wiessner