Wednesday, May 28, 2008

EPA Gets Sued By States and Organizations Nationwide For Failure to Protect Public

--trends + business + politics--

After months of scrutiny over a highly criticized decision by the EPA to not lower smog requirements to levels recommended by both the scientific and medical communities, the agency is being sued. The law suit was filed yesterday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by Earthjustice on behalf of a number of environmental and conservation groups and the American Lung Association. A parallel lawsuit was filed as well by eighteen states against the EPA in an effort to overturn what Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called weak ozone standards. The plaintiffs said the agency is ignoring a year-old Supreme Court ruling that the federal government has legal authority under the Clean Air Act to control carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. They asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to compel the EPA to act within 60 days.

"What we have is an environmental agency acting completely contrary to its essential mission and duty," said California Attorney General Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. (D) in a telephone news conference.

The ongoing controversy put the EPA under fire after a March decision to lower emission requirements to 75 parts per billion from 84 parts per billion, a requirement seen as ineffective in addressing the growing health and environmental impact brought on by smog. The medical and scientific community made it clear to the EPA that standards needed to be lowered to 60 to 70 parts per billion to address the massive health risks associated from air pollution especially to children and elderly, as well as the growing numbers of individuals with respiratory illness.

"The EPA's decision to disregard the overwhelming evidence and the advice of respected experts is a decision that we cannot allow go unchallenged," said Bernadette Toomey, president of the American Lung Association.

The agency has admitted to facing opposition by the White House Office of Management and Budget, which oversees government regulation (and inadvertently industry pressures).

The agency, formed almost forty years ago during the Nixon administration was from its beginnings a product and victim of mixed interests. The agency was pieced together from various programs at other departments. From the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), National Air Pollution Control Administration, the bureaus of Water Hygiene and Solid Waste Management, and some functions of the Bureau of Radiological Health. The Food and Drug Administration of HEW gave up to EPA its control over tolerance levels for pesticides. Although initially focused on creating programs that enacted several key pieces of legislation (e.g.NEPA, Clear Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act of 1972), the EPA now manages more than a hundred programs that uphold a dozen major laws or statutes. The programs can be broadly broken down into six categories: air, pollution prevention, wastes and recycling, toxics and chemicals, water and pesticides.

During the current administration of George W. Bush, the EPA has faced ongoing criticism regarding its commitment to doing what it was ultimately designed to do - enforcing environmental laws and pursuing criminal polluters. Lawsuits against the agency, congressional investigations, an overall drop in convictions and several high-profile resignations by frustrated EPA employees have critics suggesting that the EPA is no longer adequately performing its duty. The EPA has also attracted attention for its sharp decline in new investigations, prosecutions and convictions -- all of which dropped by a third between 2002 and 2006. Civil lawsuits against defendants who rejected offers to settle outside of court dropped almost 70 percent [source: Washington Post]. The EPA's administration insists that numbers are down because the agency has "shifted its focus" to bigger cases with probable convictions. Clearly the recent lawsuit filed by over a third of the nations states point to a bigger problem, one less involved with "shifting focus" and one probably more involved with "shifting interests."

(Sources: Washington Post, Earth Justice, National Journal)

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