New Jersey Leads Multi-State Lawsuit Against Trump Admin for Failure to Address Air Pollution

February 20, 2020 Updated: February 20, 2020

New Jersey has led a coalition of states and New York City in a lawsuit against the Trump administration over air pollution coming from other states.

New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Wednesday alleging that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to address the pollution that is coming from upwind states and hurting the residents in New Jersey and other state challengers. The suit claims that the pollution is coming from emissions from coal-burning power plants and other pollution sources in other states.

Joining New Jersey in the suit are attorneys general in Connecticut, Delaware, New York State, Massachusetts, and City of New York.

The states are asking the court to compel the EPA to take action in addressing the air pollution that they say are largely caused by nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants and other industrial sources in upwind states Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

New Jersey and the plaintiff states say the emissions are carried by prevailing winds into the plaintiff states and recombine to form smog and prevent the plaintiff states from meeting the federal ozone standards. Some of the states are expected to show compliance with the federal standards by July 2021, the complaint (pdf) states.

Under the “Good Neighbor Provision” of the Clean Air Act, upwind states are required to take action to control their emissions that could affect downwind states. The provision also requires the EPA to prohibit air pollution in one state that affects “downwind states'” ability to attain and maintain of federal air quality standards. The law requires the agency to make a formal finding that the offending states have failed to submit to complaint plans to address the emission. It also requires the agency to promulgate a federal implementation plan within two years to force offending states to comply.

The EPA said in 2016 that it would reduce emissions from upwind states but in 2018, the agency issued a finalized rule that determines that the agency and states “have no obligation to establish additional requirements” to further reduce emissions to satisfy the good neighbor obligations.

In 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the 2018 EPA rule (pdf). The court subsequently sent the rule back to the EPA to be rewritten but the agency has not yet proposed any federal plans for reducing emissions from upwind states, the attorney general’s office said. The new lawsuit seeks to compel the EPA to issue new plans and declare the agency “in violation of the Clean Air Act for not taking action on the upwind pollution problem.”

“Today’s lawsuit is not the first time that we have called on EPA to address the ozone pollution that is harming New Jersey’s children and our health, and it’s time for EPA to live up to its legal duty,” Grewal said in a press release. “We already beat EPA in court and won an order demanding the federal government tackle out-of-state pollution, and yet EPA still did not act. Enough is enough: this is a serious environmental and public health problem, and it demands a serious response from Washington.”

An EPA spokesperson told The Epoch Times that the agency “does not comment on pending litigation.”

Ozone pollution can be harmful to health and trigger a variety of health problems such as chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and airway inflammation, according to the EPA. Moreover, it can reduce lung function and harm lung tissue. People who are most at risk of breathing in air containing ozone include children, older adults, people with asthma, and people are who are active outdoors.

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