E.P.A. Reverses Course on Ozone Rule

Source: By LISA FRIEDMAN, New York Times • Posted: Monday, August 14, 2017

A layer of smog over the Salt Lake City area. The Trump administration said on Wednesday that it would not delay a regulation on smog-forming pollutants. Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune, via Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said late Wednesday that it would not delay an Obama-era regulation on smog-forming pollutants from smokestacks and tailpipes, a move that environmental groups hailed as a victory.

The Environmental Protection Agency decision came a day after 16 state attorneys general, all Democrats, filed a lawsuit challenging the delay with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. It reversed a decision that Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. administrator, made in June to put off an Oct. 1 deadline for designating which areas of the country met new ozone standards.

In announcing the ozone policy change, the agency appeared to leave the door open to extending the deadline again. But, officials said, the agency will work with states to help them deliver the needed information.

“Under previous administrations, E.P.A. would often fail to meet designation deadlines, and then wait to be sued by activist groups and others, agreeing in a settlement to set schedules for designation,” Mr. Pruitt said in a statement. “We do not believe in regulation through litigation, and we take deadlines seriously. We also take the statute and the authority it gives us seriously.”

Ozone, a smog-causing gas that is formed when chemical emissions from power plants, factories and cars are exposed to heat and sunlight, has been linked to childhood asthma, lower infant birth weights and lung disease.

Environmental advocates welcomed the agency’s policy shift on ozone but said they would continue to insist on vigorous enforcement of pollution laws.

“Pruitt’s lawless attempt to delay stronger ozone-pollution protections would have put thousands of lives at risk,” said Lori Ann Burd, director of the environmental program at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “It’s disturbing how much pressure it took to get this common-sense step from the guy in charge of protecting the air we breathe.”

In October 2015 the Obama administration set a new national standard for ozone of 70 parts per billion, down from 75 parts per billion. It was far less strict than manufacturers had feared, but industry leaders still criticized the rule as overly burdensome.

Mr. Pruitt initially sought to delay for a year the requirement that states submit measurements of their 2015 ozone levels, citing a clause in the Clean Air Act that allows such a pause if the agency needs to collect more information. The agency argued it had to evaluate “a host of complex issues” before designating which states had met the standard.

The move is one of several steps taken by Mr. Pruitt to relax or delay environmental regulations issued by the Obama administration under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.