James reaches agreement with EPA to crack down on NY air pollution

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Smoke from Canadian wildfires impact the North Country: Public Square, Watertown, New York, July 20, 2021 (WWTI/ Isabella Colello)

NEW YORK (WWTI) — New York leaders are continuing the fight against air pollution.

While leading a coalition of five states and the City of New York, New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced that an agreement has been made with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This agreement, if approved by the court, will commit the federal government to address pollution that blows into New York and creates unhealthy ground-level ozone, otherwise known as smog.

James added that nine counties in New York State are currently considered by the EPA to be out of compliance with national health standards for smog pollution. Health experts stated that elevated levels of smog can cause a host of significant health effects, including coughing, throat irritation, lung tissue damage, and the aggravation of existing medical conditions, such as asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, and emphysema.

According to James, the new agreement says the EPA must take final action on “good neighbor” plans from six states to limit downwind spread of smog-forming emissions. Additionally, this agreement would resolve a lawsuit originally filed against the EPA in January 2021 over Clean Air Act violations.

The Clean Air Act requires that states submit “State Implementation Plans” for meeting national health and welfare standards for air pollutants, including ozone and smog.

“Following years of unregulated air pollution from other states into New York, this agreement promises a breath of fresh air for millions of New Yorkers,” Attorney General James said. “A majority of New Yorkers across the state regularly breathe polluted air, much of it from smog blown in from upwind states. With this agreement, the EPA has committed to finally taking the necessary action to protect our communities and the resources we depend on.” 

Specifically, the new agreement resolves the lawsuit filed earlier in 2021 and ends the EPA’s delay by establishing deadlines for action. It requires the EPA to approve or reject Good Neighbor SIPs from the upwind states by April 30, 2022. James claimed that this creates a strong incentive for the EPA to evaluate these reports.

Following a notice-and-comment period, the agreement will be sent to the U.S. District Court for final approval.

Joining James in the announcement made on July 29 was the attorney generals of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.

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