Smog Problem: R.I., Mass. Among States Suing EPA

By ecoRI News staff

President Trump’s war on pollution rules prompted nine states to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its decision to ignore smog regulations.

The lawsuit, filed Dec. 22, asks the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to vacate the EPA’s about-face on a program designed to curb ozone pollutants traveling from upwind states to downwind states.

Despite EPA’s own research showing that air pollution blows from states in the Midwest and the South to the Northeast, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt denied a petition that nine polluting states be added to the Ozone Transport Region.

The Ozone Transport Region was created by Congress to address the interstate pollution problem. Its original members were 11 states that suffer from harmful cross-border emissions: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont, and the District of Columbia.

Each state within the Ozone Transport Region must develop and implement plans that control smog-causing pollutants. Despite enacting stringent in-state controls on sources of these pollutants, many states within the region are unable to meet federal air-quality standards for smog, significantly due to upwind smog pollution.

As it stands, states outside and upwind of the region are not required to — and generally do not — impose controls as stringent as those required of those within the region. The Clean Air Act allows states to petition the EPA to add states to the Ozone Transport Region if air pollution from them significantly exceeds federal standards for smog.

In 2013, several states in the region asked the EPA to add polluting states to the Ozone Transport Region: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. On Oct. 27, 2017 — the last day for the EPA to respond — Pruitt denied the petition.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin wasn't pleased.

"It’s been long established that Rhode Island and the other Northeast states are negatively impacted by pollution from upwind states, and this latest decision by the EPA flouts sound environmental science and puts many Rhode Islanders — especially young children and older people — at serious risk of health issues,” Kilmartin said.

Smog causes coughing, throat irritation, lung tissue damage, and aggravates medical conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, and emphysema. According to the American Lung Association, more than 10 percent of Rhode Islanders are at risk for pediatric or adult asthma because of smog and particle pollution.

One of Pruitt’s advisers, Robert Phalen, claimed in 2012 that “modern air is a little too clean for optimum health,” and that breathing particulate matter makes children healthier. Phalen is one of a number of advisers, including lobbyists from the American Chemistry Council, to replace scientists on EPA advisory boards.

Trump has taken steps to eliminate federal pollution controls, including beginning the repeal of President Obama's Clean Power Plan.

As federal rules are weakened, states are acting on their own. The most recent lawsuit was filed by the attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The coalition will ask the court to determine that Pruitt’s denial is illegal and to vacate it.