SAN FRANCISCO— A federal court has approved an agreement between conservation groups and the Environmental Protection Agency requiring the agency to ensure reductions in asthma-causing smog from oil and fracked gas extraction across portions of eight states.
Under the agreement, which was approved on Wednesday by a federal court in San Francisco, the EPA must make sure that areas violating air-quality standards for smog have legally required plans in place to clean up one of the biggest contributors to the pollution: the oil and fracked gas industry.
The smog cleanup will benefit areas that are home to more than 70 million people. They include Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Virginia and the greater metropolitan areas of Dallas, Houston, Denver, San Diego, Phoenix and eastern Kern County in California.
“The EPA must finally curb the filthy drilling and fracking pollution that’s endangering the health of millions of people,” said Robert Ukeiley, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This agreement forces the EPA to do its job and reduce ozone pollution from oil and gas, which has put our children and the elderly at greater risk of poor health, and even death, for a long time now.”
People exposed to excess ground-level ozone, the principle pollutant in smog, can experience reduced lung function and increased respiratory problems like asthma attacks, causing increased visits to emergency rooms and premature death.
“The pandemic and severe wildfires have made it clear just how necessary clean air is for all of us,” said Caroline Cox, a senior scientist with the Center for Environmental Health. “Complying with the Clean Air Act, even for politically powerful industries like fossil fuels, is more important than ever.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in 13 people (25 million people in the United States) suffers from asthma. In 2013 children missed 13.8 million school days because of asthma — the leading reason that children missed school in the United States.
An EPA study in 2015 estimated that fully implementing Clean Air Act programs that reduce ozone pollution would prevent more than 3,180 premature deaths and 390,000 asthma attacks in children alone. The agency also estimates that the net economic benefit of fully implementing the current ozone standard would be as much as $4.5 billion.
Ozone pollution also harms wildlife and plants. Oil and gas fracking and drilling are key drivers of the quickly escalating wildlife extinction crisis. Ozone hurts forests by increasing forest fires, disease and insect infestations. Sensitive tree species at risk from ozone exposure include aspen, ponderosa pine and cottonwood, all of which provide essential habitat for imperiled birds and butterflies.