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Attorneys General appeal air quality delay; New Mexico AG says stall ‘especially dangerous’ for Doña Ana County

In this April 28, 2009, file photo, smog covers downtown Los Angeles. Attorneys general from 15 states and the District of Columbia are suing over the Trump administration's delay of Obama-era rules reducing emissions of smog-causing air pollutants. (AP Photo)

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Attorneys general from 15 states, including New Mexico, and the District of Columbia, filed a legal challenge on Tuesday over the Trump administration’s delay of reducing emissions of smog-causing air pollutants.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is part of the coalition of 16 state attorneys general that filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and administrator Scott Pruitt for allegedly stalling the designation of areas impacted by unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone illegally.
In October 2015, the EPA revised the national air quality standards for smog, strengthening those standards. The Clean Air Act requires the agency, within two years after issuance of new or revised standards, to designate areas of the county that are in “attainment” or “non-attainment” with these public health and welfare standards.
In the case of the 2015 smog standards, the EPA was required to issue attainment or non-attainment designations by Oct. 1, 2017. But on June 28, 2017, Pruitt published a notice stalling the deadline for the smog designations for all areas in the country for one year – to Oct. 1, 2018.
Pruitt’s delay of the 2015 ozone standards comes as Republicans in Congress are pushing for a broader rewrite of the rules. A House bill approved last month seeks to delay implementation of the 2015 rules at least eight years. The measure has not yet been brought to a vote in the Senate.
More than a dozen major health organizations oppose the GOP-backed measure, including the National Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association. The head of the American Lung Association called the industry-backed bill a “direct assault” on the right of Americans to breathe healthy air.
The coalition of attorneys general challenging Pruitt’s one-year delay in designating areas with unhealthy levels of smog said the motion violates the requirements of the Clean Air Act, and is arbitrary and capricious.
Balderas said putting a stop to the delay is vital in protecting citizens from dangerous pollution.
“Especially in Doña Ana County,” he said, “where residents are suffering the effects of ozone pollution from El Paso, Texas and Mexico. Protecting the health of New Mexico families and seniors, our fragile economy and our beautiful natural environment is critical. Especially at a time when President Trump continues to roll back regulations that protect New Mexico.”

Tuesday’s suit was filed by the attorneys general of New Mexico, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.
These states petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn Pruitt’s extension of deadlines and to comply with the 2015 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who was among the state officials who filed the lawsuit, repeated that the delay violates the Clean Air Act.
“Yet again the Trump EPA has chosen to put polluters before the health of the American people,” Schneiderman said. “By illegally blocking these vital clean air protections, Administrator Pruitt is endangering the health and safety of millions.”
Ground-level ozone can cause serious breathing problems among sensitive groups of people, contributing to thousands of premature deaths each year.
According to the American Lung Association, over 115 million Americans breathe harmful levels of ozone, which often travels far distances from other states with less stringent clean air regulations.
The designations, which Pruitt recently delayed for one year, play a key role under the Clean Air Act in addressing smog’s serious threat to public health, triggering requirements for state-specific plans and deadlines to reduce pollution in the designated areas.
EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said the agency does not comment on pending litigation but has estimated at the time that the $1.4 billion it would cost to meet the stricter standards would be far outweighed by billions saved from fewer emergency room visits and other public health gains.
New Mexico’s Office of the Attorney General said smog forms when nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide is emitted from power plants, motor vehicles, factories, refineries and other sources.
“Because these reactions occur in the atmosphere, smog can form far from where its precursor gases are emitted and, once formed, smog can travel far distances,” said New Mexico’s Office of the Attorney General in a news release. “That is why, despite enacting stringent in-state controls on sources of these pollutants, many states – including New Mexico – are not alone able to meet federal health-based air quality standards for smog.”

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