New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal filed a lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of five states and the City of New York over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleged failure – despite a court mandate – to address ozone pollution that is reaching New Jersey from upwind states.
In particular, the suit asks the court to declare the EPA in violation of the Clean Air Act for not taking action on the upwind pollution problem affecting New Jersey and other states in the region, and to order the agency to propose and adopt federal plans that limit upwind states’ emissions by specific dates.
In addition to lead state New Jersey, the states of New York, Connecticut, Delaware and Massachusetts, along with the City of New York, joined the lawsuit.
Ozone pollution is caused largely by nitrogen oxide emissions and can damage the lining of the lungs and lung tissue and can aggravate asthma. Medical professionals say children and adults with respiratory conditions are particularly susceptible.
Even though New Jersey has some of the strictest limits on nitrogen oxide emissions in the United States, the EPA deems some counties out of compliance with federal standards for ground-level ozone due to emissions from coal-burning power plants and other pollution sources in other states.
“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,” said Grewal. “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. I am proud to lead my colleagues in continuing this fight.”
Although the EPA has a responsibility under the “Good Neighbor Provision” of the Clean Air Act to prohibit air pollution in one state that significantly contributes to non-attainment of air quality standards in other states, it has not done so for ozone pollution. The EPA is required to make a formal finding that the offending states have failed to submit compliant plans to address their emissions, and then within two years impose a federal plan to govern the offending emissions from those states.
In 2016, the EPA stated that it would require emissions reductions from states upwind of New Jersey to reduce high ozone levels, Grewal said. Under the Trump Administration, EPA reversed course and finalized a rule in 2018 that required no new reductions from upwind states.
The Wednesday lawsuit lists Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia as upwind states “that contribute significantly” to New Jersey’s non-attainment of federal 2008 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards.