Environmental groups sue EPA over ozone regulations

Ten environmental and public health groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday to force the agency to designate greater Houston and hundreds of counties nationwide out of compliance with federal smog standards.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt missed an Oct. 1 deadline for designating which areas do not comply with regulations for ground-level ozone or smog. Among cities, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, El Paso and San Antonio are still waiting for the designation.

The designations matter because they trigger requirements for states to ensure areas with dirty air achieve the federal standards by a certain deadline. The EPA also classifies areas by the severity of their ozone levels, so the smoggiest places, like Houston, might need to adopt more stringent pollution controls.

Pruitt’s failure to designate the areas that do not comply with the smog standards is forcing millions of people to wait for clean air.

Ozone forms when a mixture of chemicals, mostly from tailpipes and smokestacks, reacts in sunlight. Exposure to the pollutant can lead to asthma attacks, heart disease and even premature death.

In 2015, the Obama administration set a new federal standard for ozone of 70 parts per billion, down from 75 parts per billion. Houston, which is at 81 parts per billion for 2017, has not seen its smog levels improve over the past four years.

The groups suing the EPA include the American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, American Thoracic Society, Appalachian Mountain Club, Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Law & Policy Center, National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and West Harlem Environmental Action.

Air Alliance Houston and other advocacy group also have sued the EPA for delaying these standards. By not taking action, Pruitt is continuing to prioritize industry profits over public health.