The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) motion to delay oral arguments in the legal battle over a federal smog regulation in order to give the agency time to decide whether to keep the rule.
The court ruled on Monday that EPA had “to file status reports on the agency’s review of the 2015 Rule at 90-day intervals beginning 90 days from the date of this order” and within “30 days of the agency notifying the court and the parties what action it has or will be taking with respect to the 2015 Rule.”
“EPA intends to closely review the 2015 rule, and the prior positions taken by the agency with respect to the 2015 rule may not necessarily reflect its ultimate conclusions after that review is complete,” EPA attorneys told the court Friday.
The agency recently implemented President Donald Trump’s executive order to set up committees to eliminate or reform federal regulations. Obama-era standards for ground-level ozone, or smog, are under review.
Environmentalists fought back against the court’s ruling, saying delays in implementing the ozone rule would “likely result in unnecessary asthma attacks and deaths.”
“The EPA has no justification to weaken anything about these key pollution reduction measures, and we’ll fight against that. We look forward to having our day in court in the future to fight for stronger protections,” said Earthjustice attorney Seth Johnson, one of the attorneys trying to preserve the rule.
A coalition of states and businesses sued EPA in 2015 to overturn the ozone rule, which lowered the acceptable ambient air quality standards from 75 to 70 parts per billion. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sued the agency over the rule while attorney general of Oklahoma.
Industry groups said the new standards amount to one of the most expensive air quality regulations ever issued.
The National Association of Manufacturers put out a study in 2o15 claiming an ozone standard of 65 parts per billion would cost $1.7 trillion dollars by 2040. (RELATED: Proposed EPA Regs Would Put Regulatory Burden On The Market At Over $2 Trillion)
EPA estimated lowering the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion would cost $2 billion, including California’s compliance costs.
The agency claimed the benefits of the ozone rule ranged from $3.1 billion to $8 billion, but most of those benefits come from reducing fine particulate matter and not lower ozone levels.
The court’s ruling is a victory for the Trump administration, but repealing the ozone rule could take years and draw lawsuits from environmental activists.
“While the EPA did not say, at this time, what action it might take with regard to the very controversial standard, any attempt to revise it will likely generate further controversy and litigation,” James Rubin, an environmental attorney at Dorsey & Whitney, said in an emailed statement.
Congress is debating legislation to delay the implementation of EPA’s ozone standards, but it’s not clear if such a bill could clear both chambers. (RELATED: Environmental Protection Agency’s Costliest Regulation Yet Hits Roadblock)
It’s also unclear what standard EPA would revert to if the rule is repealed.
“Any formal reconsideration of the current standard will become yet another flashpoint for the Trump EPA,” Rubin said.
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