On Monday, environmental groups, including Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, Communities for a Better Environment and the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The suit alleges that EPA ran afoul of the Clean Air Act (CAA) by missing a May deadline requiring the agency to determine if the LA area has exceeded the federal one-hour ozone standard.
The statutory framework is as follows (as aptly explained in the complaint)… under authority provided by the CAA, EPA divided the states into air quality control regions. These were designated as being either in attainment or non-attainment of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for particular contaminants. If a region is categorized as a “non-attainment” region, it must adopt a plan to control the emissions and achieve attainment of the NAAQS – these plans are called State Implementation Plans or SIPs. The South Coast Air Basin (which includes the LA area) is an extreme non-attainment area for one-hour ozone levels. (A “one-hour standard” is the amount of ozone in the air, averaged over one hour.) The CAA sets deadlines by which the EPA must determine whether an area meets the various NAAQS standards. If EPA determines that a standard is not met and the region fails to meet the standard within a year after EPA’s determination, the region must submit a revised SIP and major stationary sources of emissions in that region are required to pay fees until the area is “in attainment.”
To boil it down, the plaintiffs in this case are fairly confident that the standard has not been met and they are pretty sure that EPA believes the same thing. (The CAA standard is 0.12 ppm and, according to the Los Angeles Times, last year the LA area averaged 0.143 ppm.) So, the plaintiffs think that EPA is dragging its feet because if it was determined that the LA area exceeds the standard, EPA would be required to take enforcement actions including imposing fees. No one likes to punish… even EPA. A federal judge will have to sort this out and if the plaintiffs prevail major local emitters may be on the hook for fines.