EPA’S AIR ER­RORS

Court rules Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion must re­assess pol­lu­tion des­ig­na­tions in Illi­nois, else­where

Chicago Sun-Times - - CHICAGO SUN TIMES - BY BRETT CHASE, STAFF RE­PORTER bchase@sun­times.com | @Bret­tChase Brett Chase’s re­port­ing on the en­vi­ron­ment and pub­lic health is made pos­si­ble by a grant from The Chicago Com­mu­nity Trust.

The U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency erred when giv­ing pass­ing grades for air qual­ity in ar­eas sur­round­ing Chicago and else­where, a fed­eral court ruled Fri­day.

Un­der the court’s or­der, the EPA must re­assess de­ci­sions it made that al­lowed coun­ties in Illi­nois and other states to get a pass on stricter pol­lu­tion rules.

Those de­ci­sions by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion had been chal­lenged in 2019 by the city of Chicago, Illi­nois At­tor­ney Gen­eral Kwame Raoul and a num­ber of en­vi­ron­men­tal groups.

Raoul called the court rul­ing “an im­por­tant step toward clean air for Illi­nois res­i­dents,” in a state­ment re­leased by his of­fice.

In Illi­nois, both north­west sub­ur­ban McHenry County and down­state Mon­roe County were deemed to be in com­pli­ance with clean air laws mea­sur­ing ozone pol­lu­tion, the EPA ruled in 2018. The groups dis­agreed, fil­ing a pe­ti­tion to re­view, say­ing the agency didn’t fol­low its own sci­ence. The

EPA also erred when it des­ig­nated clean air in part of north­west In­di­ana’s Lake County and Porter County, the groups said.

The U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the District of Columbia Cir­cuit sided with the en­vi­ron­men­tal groups ex­cept for in Lake County, In­di­ana. In that case, the EPA’s de­ci­sion on air qual­ity was jus­ti­fied, the court said.

“Th­ese coun­ties con­trib­ute to Chicago’s high ozone level,” said Howard Learner, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Law & Pol­icy Cen­ter. “The ev­i­dence should bear that out when the EPA con­ducts th­ese re­views prop­erly.”

“We are re­view­ing the de­ci­sion,” EPA said in a state­ment.

The chal­lenge was led by en­vi­ron­men­tal group Clean Wis­con­sin, which ques­tioned sim­i­lar de­ci­sions in south­east Wis­con­sin. Those air des­ig­na­tions at the time ben­e­fited the Tai­wanese com­pany Fox­conn as it moved toward build­ing a mas­sive flat screen plant near Racine, ex­empt­ing the com­pany from cer­tain pol­lu­tion con­trols.

Last year, EPA ac­knowl­edged it may have to re­assess some de­ci­sions it made and asked the court for per­mis­sion to re­view McHenry County in Illi­nois, Porter County in In­di­ana and coun­ties in south­east Wis­con­sin.

“The court is trust­ing EPA to qui­etly redo what it tried to get away with,” said Brian Ur­baszewski, direc­tor of en­vi­ron­men­tal health pro­grams at Res­pi­ra­tory Health As­so­ci­a­tion. The En­vi­ron­men­tal Law & Pol­icy Cen­ter rep­re­sented his group.

“EPA failed to pro­tect the city and its res­i­dents from the harm­ful ef­fects of ozone pol­lu­tion,” Chicago Cor­po­ra­tion Coun­sel Mark Flessner said in a state­ment. “Des­ig­na­tions based on sci­ence rather than pol­i­tics will re­sult in cleaner air and im­proved health for Chicago res­i­dents.”

Any re­assess­ment of those de­ci­sions by the EPA will take time, al­most cer­tainly stretch­ing past the Novem­ber elec­tion.

TYLER LARIVIERE/SUN-TIMES

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