Pictured: John Brooks, president of Climate First: Replacing Oil and Gas (CFROG) speaking at a public hearing at the Ventura County Government Center, July 2019. Photo by Kimberly Rivers.
by Kimberly Rivers
A Ventura County-grown watchdog organization has joined in on a lawsuit aimed at holding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accountable for reducing smog pollution and protecting the health of residents in Ventura County.
On Aug. 23, Climate First: Replacing Oil and Gas (CFROG) joined with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Environmental Health in filing legal action against the EPA in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The action asks the court to review and overturn the EPA’s finding that current state and county plans to reduce air pollution will be effective. The petitioners say the plan is inadequate in protecting public health because it fails to address the possibility that air pollution will not decrease as predicted, and does not provide a contingency plan in the event those predictions turn out to be wrong.
“A cleaner planet starts at home,” said John Brooks, president of CFROG. “There must be a real plan with backup provisions to reach clean air goals.”
A statement released by the petitioners reports that “people exposed to excess ground-level ozone, the principal pollutant in smog, can experience reduced lung function and increased respiratory problems like asthma attacks, causing increased visits to emergency rooms and even premature death.”
The action responds to the EPA’s June 25 filing in the Federal Registry that announced the EPA’s decision to approve the California Air Resources Board’s State Implementation Plan (SIP) for addressing ozone levels in the county that continue to exceed allowable levels. With that decision the EPA is saying the plans will be effective in reducing smog to allowable levels. The SIP includes the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District’s final 2016 Air Quality Management Plan.
But the petitioners say the EPA is wrong because the plan relies on the government’s projections of future pollution levels and doesn’t include a required plan for reducing smog in the event those predictions underestimate pollution levels.
The EPA’s filing states the SIP meets “all the applicable ozone nonattainment area requirements… In this action, the EPA is taking final action to conditionally approve the contingency measures element of the 2016 Ventura County Ozone SIP.” 1
According to the EPA filing, ozone levels in Ventura County are in “serious” nonattainment for state and federal levels.
Health impacts of smog are well documented and new studies are revealing how smog pollution contributes to increased risk from COVID-19. One study concluded “that the high level of pollution in Northern Italy should be considered an additional co-factor of the high level of lethality recorded in that area.” 2
“COVID-19 re-emphasizes that smog isn’t something to mess around with and simply hope for the best,” said Caroline Cox, a senior scientist at the Center for Environmental Health. “People’s health and very lives depend on ensuring that smog levels decrease under all possible scenarios.”
The EPA declined to comment on pending litigation.
Petitioners are represented by attorneys Alexa Carreno and Jeremy McKay from Environmental and Animal Defense and Steve Odendahl of Air Law for All, Ltd.