U.S. judge orders EPA to limit pollution into New York, Connecticut

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take steps to curb ozone pollution that blows into New York and Connecticut from five other states.

FILE PHOTO: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing on the FY2019 Environmental Protection Agency budget in Washington, U.S., April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The decision by U.S. District Judge John Koeltl in Manhattan is a victory for New York’s and Connecticut’s attorneys general, Barbara Underwood and George Jepsen.

Their offices sued EPA administrator Scott Pruitt in January, accusing him of ignoring his responsibilities under the federal Clean Air Act to reduce pollution.

Koeltl said the EPA acknowledged having missed an August 2017 deadline to arrange plans to reduce smog from Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia that travels eastward into New York and Connecticut.

Those plans had been required under the “Good Neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act. Koeltl set a December 6 deadline for compliance.

“Given the prior violations of the statutory deadline by the EPA, it is a reasonable exercise of the court’s equitable powers to require the EPA to do the minimal tasks it has agreed it can do to remedy its past violation of the statute,” Koeltl wrote.

An EPA spokeswoman said the agency intends to propose this month, and make final by December, “an action that will address any remaining good neighbor obligations related to the 2008 ozone standard for these and other states.”

Ozone is a colorless gas that can be created when pollutants react to sunlight. It has been linked to asthma, bronchitis, heart disease and other health problems.

Underwood’s predecessor, Eric Schneiderman, had been a vocal critic of the EPA and the Trump administration prior to his resignation last month.

“As many as two in three New Yorkers are breathing unhealthy levels of smog,” Underwood said in a statement. “The court’s decision is a major win for New Yorkers and our public health, forcing the Trump EPA to follow the law.”

Jepsen, in a separate statement, said he was gratified by the decision, and plans to keep working with New York to hold the EPA accountable when it ignores its legal obligations.

The case is New York et al v Pruitt, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 18-00406.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Dan Grebler