Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 27, 2020


Robert Ukeiley, (720) 496-8568,

Lawsuit Challenges EPA’s Delay in Ensuring That Rules to Reduce Smog Are in Place for California, Colorado

OAKLAND, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Environmental Health sued the Environmental Protection Agency today for failing to ensure that parts of California and Colorado have effective plans to reduce dangerous smog pollution.

The lawsuit, brought under the Clean Air Act in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, calls for the EPA to make sure that areas violating air-quality standards for ground-level ozone have legally required plans in place to clean up air pollution emitted by fossil fuel-powered cars and power plants, as well as by the oil and fracked-gas industry.

Areas affected by the EPA’s failures in California include Kern County, which is home to some of the worst air quality in the nation, Mendocino County and the northern Sierras. The suit also addresses dangerous smog pollution in the Metro Denver area and the Front Range in Colorado. This area is home to around 3.5 million people.

“Putting plans in place to protect millions of Americans from the effects of dangerous smog pollution could mean the difference between life and death, especially during this pandemic,” said Robert Ukeiley, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now more than ever, the EPA needs to step up and take responsibility for people’s health and safety.”

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 visits to emergency rooms and even premature death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 13 people (25 million Americans) suffers from asthma. In 2013, children missed 13.8 million school days because of asthma — making it the top cause of missed school days in the United States.

The EPA’s failure to ensure clean air in these areas is made worse by the fact that smog exposure could exacerbate the effects of COVID-19. An April 2020 study found that in England, COVID-19 deaths were correlated with higher smog levels. This adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that communities living in polluted areas are more likely to die of COVID-19 due to their exposure to pollution and subsequent adverse health effects.

“The evidence is clear: Delays in implementing common-sense protections lead to significant, long-lasting health impacts,” said Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health. “It is the EPA’s duty to ensure children and families have clean air to breathe.”

An EPA study in 2015 estimated that 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 2015 ozone emissions limit — the current standard — would be as much as $4.5 billion.

Beyond the human health concerns, ozone pollution also harms wildlife and plants. Oil and fracked gas drilling are key drivers of the quickly escalating wildlife extinction crisis.

Ozone hurts forests by damaging needles and leaves and 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.

The threatened Mexican spotted owl and endangered California condor, both of which depend on ponderosa pine for essential habitat, are particularly at risk from ozone pollution.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Center for Environmental Health works with parents, communities, businesses, workers, and government to protect children and families from toxic chemicals in homes, workplaces, schools and neighborhoods.

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