EPA’S AIR ERRORS
Court rules Trump administration must reassess pollution designations in Illinois, elsewhere
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.