N.J. Drops Out of Multistate Ozone Lawsuit Against EPA
New Jersey dropped out of a lawsuit filed four years ago by a group of U.S. states seeking to force the Environmental Protection Agency to implement more stringent air quality standards.
More than a dozen states sued the federal regulator in 2008 during the administration of President George W. Bush, saying it failed to heed the recommendations of independent science advisers to adopt a stricter standard for ozone, a component of smog. The lawsuit was put on hold after the EPA said it would reconsider the standard, according to court papers.
The case was revived after President Barack Obama in September asked the EPA to hold off on a draft of the new standard until a 2013 review. New Jersey wasn’t among the states, which include New York and California, to challenge the delay, according to an April 17 court filing. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, the national environmental lobbying group, said Christie was choosing “his national political ambitions over the health and welfare of New Jerseyans.”
“There’s been a long history in New Jersey where every governor, Democrat or Republican, has joined lawsuits on air pollution,” Tittel said today in a telephone interview. “Ground-level ozone sends people to hospitals. If it’s an ozone alert day, your lungs will turn red.”
‘No Direct Claim’
New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said in a motion filed April 20 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia the withdrawal “is appropriate as there is no direct claim made against the State of New Jersey.” The motion was granted today.
“It was a waste of time and a waste of money,” Christie said following a bill signing in Newark today. “I don’t think it makes any sense for us to be involved in lawsuit to try and change something that is going to change in two years anyway.”
Christie, a Republican, in May withdrew the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade arrangement involving 10 northeastern and middle Atlantic U.S. states. He said the system, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, wasn’t working as intended and amounted to a tax.
Ozone, a gas with three oxygen atoms, protects the Earth from harmful ultraviolet in the upper atmosphere. At ground level it’s formed when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, the byproducts of combustion, interact with sunlight and heat. The gas, which is most problematic during hot, dry summers, causes respiratory and cardiovascular ailments including asthma, shortness of breath and chest tightness.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection reported the cleanest air-quality year in 2009, a year after it strengthened ozone standards. In 2010, it recorded “a much more typical summer in New Jersey for air pollution,” with 35 days exceeding ozone standards, according to the department’s 2010 annual report.
“Additional control measures to reduce ozone levels will be needed,” the report stated. “These measures will have to be implemented over a wide area and will require the cooperative effort of many states and the federal government if they are to be successful.”
In a separate lawsuit filed in October with the federal appeals court in Washington, Obama’s rejection of stricter ozone standards was challenged by environmental groups as “illegal and irresponsible.”
The administration told the EPA last year to quash the rule after industry representatives including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable lobbied White House officials to drop it because of the weakened economy.
The American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund and National Resources Defense Council asked the appeals court, which has jurisdiction over administrative rulemaking by federal agencies, to review the decision in a petition filed Oct. 11.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told a congressional panel last year the agency recommended a cap for ozone at 70 parts per billion, below the level of 75 parts per billion issued in 2008 under the Bush administration. A scientific advisory panel had said a limit of 60 to 70 parts per billion was necessary to protect public health.
Jackson had called the Bush-era standard “not legally defensible.”
After release of the EPA’s proposed changes was delayed for months, Obama announced Sept. 2 that the revised ozone restrictions would be reconsidered because it was scheduled for a routine review in 2013 and he wanted to “underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty.”
The cases are State of Mississippi v. Environmental Protection Agency, 08-1200, and American Lung Association v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 11-1396, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Washington).
To contact the reporters on this story: Elise Young in Trenton, New Jersey, at firstname.lastname@example.org; Phil Milford in Wilmington, Delaware, at email@example.com; Tom Schoenberg in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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