A federal judge has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to approve or reject a smog-reduction plan for the Washington area by May 3, saying the EPA has an "unblemished record of nonperformance" in complying with parts of the Clean Air Act.
The area's persistent bad air, especially during the summer smog season, violates federal health standards. As a result, D.C., Maryland and Virginia officials were required to obtain EPA approval for plans to reduce pollution, which can aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions.
The court ruling, issued Tuesday by U.S. District Judge James Robertson, was the Sierra Club's fourth legal victory on the issue in three years. The environmental group contends that the EPA repeatedly missed deadlines and allowed localities to do less than required. The group, represented by Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest law firm, filed its latest suit in December.
In his ruling, Robertson noted that the EPA said it expected to act by May 3. Despite the assurances, he said he felt that it was necessary to issue an order because of the "EPA's unblemished record of nonperformance in this corner of the Clean Air Act."
Marcia Spink, associate director for air programs in the EPA's Philadelphia regional office, said yesterday that actions will be taken and that "they will be signed by the May 3 deadline."
EPA staff has proposed approving plans submitted by the District and Virginia, but called for rejection of part of Maryland's plan because it does not include a fee on large pollution sources. The agency's regional administrator will make the final decision.
The plans tighten pollution limits on major sources from power plants to bakeries and lower limits on chemicals in consumer products from paints to nail polish.
Joan Rohlfs, air quality director for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said state and local governments already are implementing the measures in the clean-air plans.
Environmentalists are not satisfied with the anti-pollution efforts, contending that they do not do enough to reduce smog from cars and trucks.
"We would hope [the EPA] would disapprove and the region would have to come back and do the work they need to do to make the air healthy to breathe," said Chris Carney, a Sierra Club spokesman.
More litigation over the issue is possible.
"What this series of lawsuits has shown us is if we are persistent we get cleaner air," said David Baron, the Earthjustice lawyer on the case. "We can't just stop after the first go."