August 15, 2019

Environmentalists are adding California’s Ventura County to a lawsuit against EPA seeking agency action on pending ambient air standard attainment plans for regions in the Golden state and Arizona — plans that they claim are long overdue under federal Clean Air Act deadlines.

In an Aug. 13 amended complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Center for Environmental Health (CEH) are seeking an order for EPA to take final action on five plan elements submitted by California to implement the 2008 8-hour ozone national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) for Ventura County.

“The EPA’s foot-dragging is choking Ventura County’s most vulnerable residents,” said Caroline Cox, CEH research director, in an Aug. 13 press release. “If we’re going to guarantee healthy, clean air for everyone in the country, the EPA must enforce the Clean Air Act.”

The groups argue that Ventura County’s plans were deemed administratively complete more than a year ago, but EPA has not taken any action on them.

The complaint amends a lawsuit the groups filed May 22 alleging that EPA failed to ensure adequate Clean Air Act implementation plans are in place for other parts of California and Arizona to attain NAAQS for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone.

EPA failed to ensure either that required state implementation plans (SIPs) are in place, or that alternatively, federal plans are imposed, to meet the NAAQS, the suit alleges. They ask the court to impose a deadline for the agency to make either choice.

Specifically, the groups claim EPA has missed statutory deadlines to promulgate a federal implementation plan (FIP) for Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District, CA, to set new source review air permitting conditions consistent with the 2006 PM2.5 NAAQS, set at 15 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) annually or 35 ug/m3 over 24 hours. EPA must issue FIPs where state plans are either missing or deficient.

The groups also claim EPA failed to take final action either approving or disapproving the “contingency measures” incorporated in the Portola PM2.5 attainment SIP submitted by California for the Portola region of Plumas County, CA, to meet the tougher 2012 PM2.5 NAAQS set at 12 ug/m3 annually.

Contingency measures are extra steps states must craft to help them attain NAAQS in areas classed in “moderate” or worse nonattainment. Such measures could include new restrictions on sources of PM2.5 or ozone precursor chemicals, such as volatile organic compounds, or a host of other steps.

And the lawsuit charges that for the Phoenix-Mesa region of Arizona, EPA has failed to approve or disapprove 49 individual components required for the area’s SIP to meet the 2008 ozone NAAQS, set at 75 parts per billion (ppb).

Ventura County, with a population of roughly 800,000, has failed to meet federal smog standards for decades, the environmentalists charge.

“Cleaning up Ventura County’s dangerously smoggy air is a legal requirement that even the fossil fuel addicts running Trump’s EPA can’t ignore,” said Robert Ukeiley, a CBD senior attorney. “It shouldn’t take legal action to make sure vulnerable people and wildlife are protected from harmful air pollution. That’s why we have the Clean Air Act, and we’ll keep using it to force this administration to obey federal law.”

An EPA spokeswoman says the agency does not comment on pending litigation.