By MARTIN MACIAS JR, Courthouse News

(CN) – Despite evidence that high levels of sulfur dioxide pollution in cities could damage human health, U.S Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has failed to perform duties to ensure areas through the country have pollution-curbing measures in place, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

The complaint, filed in the Northern District of California by three conservation and public-health groups, alleges that Pruitt failed to ensure cities such as Detroit and Indianapolis have effective plans for cleaning up sulfur dioxide air pollution, which can lead to severe asthma and aggravate existing heart disease.

A 2013 EPA report had already determined that 17 cities and localities in 10 states had levels of sulfur dioxide high enough to cause damage to wildlife, forests and humans.

“Despite those findings, Pruitt has failed to make sure the localities are taking legally required steps to plan for cleaning up the pollution, which is produced primarily by burning coal and oil,” the Center for Biological Diversity – one of the plaintiffs in the case – said in a statement Thursday. “The EPA’s own updated scientific studies show a link between sulfur oxides and developmental problems in children.”

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the Senate Environment Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Conservation group Sierra Club and The Center for Environmental Health are the other two plaintiffs in the case. The groups filed a letter of intent to sue on May 12, urging to Pruitt to resolve the delay before the matter went into litigation.

“The law requires that Pruitt and the Trump administration act to cut dangerous sulfur dioxide pollution from the air we breathe, but they have ignored those deadlines for protecting the public and are instead turning a blind eye to corporate polluters,” said Sierra Club attorney Zachary Fabish. “Kids and families in some of our country’s most vulnerable communities are getting sick while Pruitt violates the law by not acting, so we are taking him to court so that the safeguards that protect the public are enforced.”

The polluted areas listed are in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Beyond Detroit and Indianapolis, other areas where plaintiffs allege that the EPA has failed to make sure proper air-pollution plans are in place include Terre Haute, Indiana and portions of the states Morgan, Daviess and Pike counties.

The EPA has determined that exposure to sulfur dioxide pollution can lead to increased hospitalizations and premature deaths, according to the Center’s May 12 letter to Pruitt.

Sulfur oxides also contribute to acid rain and haze, damaging lakes, streams and ecosystems throughout the United States and decreasing visibility in national parks.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to identify and set national ambient air-quality standards to protect human health, forests, streams, wildlife and crops from pollutants like sulfur oxides, which are produced from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

Once the agency determines an area’s air pollution exceeds the national standard, the law provides deadlines for ensuring there is a plan to clean up that pollution.

“Pruitt’s unhealthy addiction to fossil fuels is forcing millions of Americans to breathe dirty air,” said Robert Ukeiley, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Current technology allows us to have clean air while saving us money, but the system only works if Pruitt does his job. The Trump administration needs to start protecting kids with asthma from sulfur dioxide pollution.”

Pruitt, who repeatedly sued the agency as attorney general of Oklahoma, has pushed for deregulations at the agency he now runs.

His close relationship with the coal and oil industries was highlighted in a recent New York Times story revealing that a billionaire coal executive gave the EPA chief VIP seats at a University of Kentucky basketball game.

He has also been harshly criticized by lawmakers over ethics violations and sued over 45 times in 2018 for his delays in granting protections to areas exposed to pollution.

On June 8, House Democrats asked the FBI and the Department of Justice to lead a criminal investigation in Pruitt’s mounting ethics violations.

The Waterkeeper Alliance sued Pruitt Wednesday, claiming the EPA’s Clean Water Rule of June 2015 denied protection to critical streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands in their area.

A federal judge also ruled on Wednesday that Pruitt must begin regulating – by September 2018 – downwind pollution drifting into Maryland from over 30 electric plants in the surrounding region.

The EPA did not immediately respond to request for comment.