NRDC sues EPA over inadequate plan to clean up LA's smog

Los Angeles has the worst ozone air pollution in the country, according to the American Lung Association’s 2012 State of the Air report released last week.  My colleague Adrian Martinez blogged about it here.  Today we filed a lawsuit to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to make sure this mess gets cleaned up. 

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has to approve California’s plan to clean up LA’s air pollution.  The EPA recently approved the plan for a large part of Southern California, but it doesn’t meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act.  The plan is supposed to provide for how the Los Angeles area will meet the federal air quality standard for ozone, known as the 1997 8-hour ozone national ambient air quality standard.  But, unfortunately, the plan is so bad that it was illegal for the EPA to approve it.

Ozone is the main ingredient of smog.  Ozone is formed when pollutants from tailpipe exhaust, power plants, and other sources combine in the air, and the sunnier and hotter the day, the more these pollutants combine to form smog.  The Los Angeles area does not meet the federal air quality standards for ozone, and as anyone who has visited Los Angeles knows, we have some serious smog problems.  There is no doubt that we need to clean up our dirty air, and the Clean Air Act requires that we have a plan of how we are going to do it.  The plan that EPA approved, however, is not good enough. 

The first problem with the plan is that it does not have enforceable measures to meet the plan’s goals.  The plan was supposed to have specific enforceable strategies, so that if California did not implement them, the state’s citizens can sue them and ask a Court to force them to do it.  But instead the plan has goals without specific enforceable strategies.

The second problem is that even though the Clean Air Act requires it, the plan does not contain enforceable measures to make sure that vehicle emissions reduce over time, even if the amount of driving increases. 

The third problem is that the plan does not contain enforceable measures to make sure that the total emissions in the area comply with the national ambient air quality standard, even though it is legally required to under the Clean Air Act. 

Instead of approving the plan, the EPA should have told California that it has to fix its plan so that it meets all the requirements of the Clean Air Act.  EPA’s approval of the inadequate plan is all the more egregious since we recently won a lawsuit against the EPA for a different clean air plan that had the same problems.   

We are working with several other organizations to bring this lawsuit: Communities for a Better Environment, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, California Communities Against Toxics, and Desert Citizens Against Pollution.  Together, we will make sure that the Los Angeles area has a solid plan to clean up our air.

About the Authors

Morgan Wyenn

Staff Attorney, Climate & Air program

Join Us