Court: Ozone standards fail to protect forests
July 23, 2013
• Upholds health standard
• “EPA must now take strong action to repair the damage”
• ADDED: Audio interview with Earthjustice attorney
A federal appeals court says the Bush Administration’s smog standards do not assure protection of forests and vegetation from ozone damage as the law requires.
The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia finds that in 2008 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Air Act when it refused to set protective standards and ignored the unanimous recommendation of its independent science advisors.
However, the decision also upholds a health standard that these same scientific advisors had found failed to protect public health.
“The decision is a mixed bag for people in California,” says David Baron, the attorney who argued the case for Earthjustice on behalf of the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association and Appalachian Mountain Club, and several states, including California.
“The court held that EPA violated the law in failing to adopt a standard to protect forests and trees from ozone damage,” says Mr. Baron. “On the other hand, the court upheld EPA’s 2008 health standard for ozone, even though the agency’s science advisors unanimously said those standards weren’t strong enough.”
(David Baron talks with CVBT about the ruling and how it could impact California in this exclusive CVBT Audio Interview. Please click on the link below to listen now or to download the MP3 audio file.)
The environmental organizations challenged the ozone health and welfare standards set by the Bush Administration in 2008, and resumed the legal battle following the Obama Administration’s decision in 2011 to continue to ignore the scientific research and the opinion of experts that much stronger standards were needed.
Sometimes called smog, ozone is a highly irritating gas found to shorten lives and worsen asthma and other lung diseases. It also is highly damaging to trees and plants, posing a major threat to the nation’s forests.
EPA’s science advisers and the National Park Service told EPA that a separate ozone standard was warranted to prevent harms. Although EPA was poised to set such a standard, Mr. Bush at the last minute ordered the agency not to include the secondary standards meant to protect forests and national parks from smog.
Says Earthjustice Attorney David Baron, “EPA must now take strong action to repair the damage.”
“Smog sickens and even kills some plants and trees, even in America’s national parks, which are supposed to have the cleanest air in the country,” says Mark Wenzler, vice president of climate and air quality programs at the National Parks Conservation Association. “The Obama administration now has an opportunity to follow the science, and not play politics with protecting our national parks and forests from air pollution damage.”
The court rejected challenges by health and environmental groups and states to EPA’s 2008 health standard for ozone. Although acknowledging that those standards were weaker than recommended unanimously by EPA’s science advisors, the court found that the agency had not acted arbitrarily in setting the weaker standards.
“There is no question that ozone makes people sick and can kill at levels well below the standard EPA set in 2008. Given that overwhelming evidence and the requirement to set the standard where it will protect public health, we are disappointed that the court upheld this inadequate standard,” says Janice Nolen, American Lung Association assistant vice president of national policy.
The court also rejected all challenges to the ozone standards by industry and the state of Mississippi.
Also challenging the standards as too weak were the states of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, as well as the District of Columbia and New York City.