Eight states are suing the EPA for not protecting them better from air pollutants produced by their neighbors. The attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont have filed the suit, which pushes back against the Trump administration’s refusal to expand the “Ozone Transport Region.” The current members of the OTR have been pushing to expand enhanced smog standards by adding nine new states, in hopes it will reduce a spillover of pollution across state lines.
There are plenty of cities in the U.S. that have bad air quality. There are those that, like Salt Lake City, Utah and Chattanooga, Tennessee have mountainous geography that can trap pollutants over the city. And then there are those states that have the misfortune of being downwind of parts of the world that are doing the polluting. The Ozone Transport Region was included in the Clean Air Act in the 1990s as a way to reduce pollution in major northeastern cities that are in close proximity to one another, and tend to have excess pollution blow in from neighboring states.
“Millions of New Yorkers are breathing unhealthy air as smog pollution continues to pour in from other states,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to Reuters. The idea is that, although a major city like New York can take steps to improve its own air quality, it’s unfair to be exposed to the pollution created by a less conscientious neighbor. And this lawsuit arrives amid recent data that says air pollution contributes to 22,000 deaths on an annual basis.
In 2013, the attorneys general of the states already in the OTR requested to expand the group to include nine more states. The EPA had until October of 2017 to decided whether Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia would join the OTR and thus face more stringent air quality standards. However, that put the OTR’s request smack dab in the path of Trump’s new EPA head Scott Pruitt, who turned down the motion. Now the attorneys general are suing to force the EPA to expand the OTR. But given Pruitt’s track record so far, it seems they will be fighting a strong headwind of resistance.