The US Environmental Protection Agency and its controversial Administrator, Scott Pruitt, have been forced to back down from delaying the implementation of Obama-era regulations designating areas impacted by excessive levels of ground-level ozone, or smog.
Only a day after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was sued by 16 Democratic state attorneys general, Scott Pruitt and the EPA announced that they would forego delaying the designation of areas currently impacted by high levels of ground-level ozone, also known as smog. The EPA and Pruitt narrowly avoided having to mention the lawsuit, or Pruitt’s long-standing stance against such regulations and his promises to delay such designations, in a press release which heralded the EPA’s willingness to “work with states on technical issues, disputed designations, and insufficient information.”
“We believe in dialogue with, and being responsive to, our state partners,” Pruitt said in the statement, adding that, “Today’s action reinforces our commitment to working with the states through the complex designation process,” a nice way of saying that the EPA was forced into a corner, and Pruitt’s misgivings were quickly thrown under the bus in favor of political expediency. The best the EPA could admit to in its announcement was that, “Today’s announcement replaces our earlier action that delayed the Agency’s designation deadline on a nationwide basis and clarifies our path forward, so that the Agency can be more responsive to local needs.”
The EPA’s rollback of promised delays came a day after 16 Democratic state attorneys general filed suit against the organization challenging its intended delays. The suit was headed up by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who led a coalition of 16 AGs in filing the lawsuit against the EPA and Pruitt for “illegally stalling the designation of areas impacted by unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone” — an issue that, according to statistics the AGs quoted from the American Lung Association, affects 115 million Americans.
“One in three New Yorkers are breathing dangerous levels of smog pollution pouring in from other states,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on August 1. “Yet again the Trump EPA has chosen to put polluters before the health of the American people. By illegally blocking these vital clean air protections, Administrator Pruitt is endangering the health and safety of millions – but Attorneys General have made clear: we won’t hesitate to fight back to protect our residents and our states.”
Only two days later, Schneiderman was able to boast that the lawsuit had successfully forced Pruitt and the EPA to back down.
“On Tuesday, we sued the EPA for blocking vital clean air protections. Last night, the EPA reversed course, withdrawing Administrator Pruitt’s year-long delay of these critical smog regulations,” Schneiderman said. “One in three New Yorkers breathe dangerous smog levels. The EPA’s reversal — following our lawsuits — is an important win for the health and safety of the 6.7 million New Yorkers, and the over 115 million Americans, directly impacted by smog pouring into their communities.”
The win comes less than a month after the US Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, delivered a similar rebuke to Pruitt and the EPA over their plans to delay implementation of methane emissions rules. The Court ruled that Pruitt had overstepped his authority by trying to delay the implementation of the methane designation rule.
Unsurprisingly, Pruitt and the EPA have left themselves some wiggle room to further their more laissez faire approach to protecting the environment, explaining that the “EPA may take future action to use its delay authority and all other authority legally available to the Agency to ensure that its designations are founded on sound policy and the best available information” — a clear throughway to re-evaluating their “path forward” if Pruitt is ever able to introduce more of his phony science into the equation.