EPA Calls on States to Reduce Smog Pollution in Dozens of Communities


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In a positive, long awaited step toward clean air for all, the EPA finalized determinations that dozens of areas home to millions of people across the United States have failed to achieve the 2008 and 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) under the Clean Air Act for ground-level ozone, also known as smog. 

EPA’s announcement reclassifies six areas as “serious” nonattainment under the 2008 ozone NAAQS, and another 28 areas as “moderate” nonattainment under the 2015 ozone NAAQS. It also sets timetables for states to develop plans detailing how they will improve air quality, including requirements that the largest sources of smog-causing pollution–such as power plants, refineries, and other industrial facilities–install and operate reasonably-available, common-sense pollution controls to protect air quality. 

Over 137 million people in the United States live in communities with high levels of ozone, and according to the Environmental Defense Fund’s summer ozone report, nearly every state experienced unhealthy levels of ozone last summer. In particular, vulnerable communities including people of color, those living in poverty, children and the elderly bear a disproportionate burden of ozone and its harms. 

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone are designed to protect communities from the dangerous health impacts of ozone, and the 2015 NAAQS limits ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion.

“People around the country don’t need to see their community on a list from EPA to know they’re experiencing harmful levels of smog pollution that are limiting their ability to safely enjoy their time outdoors,” said Sierra Club Senior Attorney Josh Berman. “We’re glad to see EPA take this important step to implement the Clean Air Act’s requirements, and help protect people in communities across the country from the dangerous health impacts of ozone.” 

“We are pleased EPA will require states to improve smog pollution. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to ensure that states are meeting their obligations to clean up their air,” said Marvin Brown, Earthjustice attorney. “But community advocates have had to constantly push and sue EPA just to get the agency to do the bare minimum. This is just one good step in the fight for clean air. As Biden’s EPA prepares to update air pollution rules, we urge officials to follow the science and make them truly protective. Communities all over the country need robust protections from smog immediately” 

"For too long, Arizona’s leaders have done far too little as pollution emitted from power plants, industrial facilities, and cars and trucks has contributed to high ozone levels, threatening the health of Arizonans. Communities deserve clean air, without fear of breathing harmful pollutants that can aggravate lung disease,” said Sandy Bahr, Director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “We need the EPA to enforce and implement what the Clean Air Act requires, especially as Arizona continues to suffer both from poor air quality and poor leadership on protecting our health and the environment." 

“In the 30 years since our group was formed, the eight-county Houston region has never met the EPA standards for smog,” said Jennifer M. Hadayia, executive director of Air Alliance Houston. “Today, the EPA has said 'enough is enough,' and its decision will bring about equally severe remediation actions across the region. Houstonians have lived too long breathing in unhealthy levels of smog, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has shown no serious indications they will take the steps necessary to hold polluters accountable so that attainment is reached. We applaud the EPA for stepping in to protect public health where Texas' regulatory agencies have not." 

“In many communities of color around the country–places just like Joppa in Dallas–we know the air is polluted,” said Alicia Kendrick, a Joppa resident and member of Joppa Environmental Health Project. “We know it because we have respiratory issues from the industrial plants that are so often placed in our neighborhoods, and we know it because the air quality monitoring data proves it. EPA’s decision will require air quality improvements that our communities have deserved for a long time.” 

"Utahns are no strangers to the realities of dangerous air quality days, and the need to take precautions while outdoors. Utah’s leaders have been talking about prioritizing clean air for decades but we’re seeing it’s all been lip service, since EPA is stepping in to do what the state has struggled to achieve,” said Carly Ferro, Sierra Club Utah Chapter Director.  “We ask that EPA continue to make decisions that prioritize public health to offset the harmful health impacts of poor air quality including asthma and bronchitis, which disproportionately impact frontline communities that already contend with increased levels of air pollution. Clean air should be a given for all communities, and this action is a step in making that possible."

“The EPA’s escalation of the need to reduce harmful ozone pollution in my hometown is happening because Missouri’s hands-off approach to improving air quality in St. Louis City and County is not working,” said Jenn DeRose, Missouri Campaign Representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “We need the EPA to seriously enforce federal laws in states like Missouri because our elected officials and regulators have proven time and time again that they have no interest in protecting the health of their constituents by enforcing federal clean air laws, but will bend over backwards to appease the heaviest polluting industries in our state.”

"Now that the EPA has formally declared key areas of Colorado as being in severe nonattainment, we hope that state agencies move forward expeditiously to reduce pollution and protect people and the environment," said Ramesh Bhatt, Lead Volunteer at the Colorado Sierra Club. "We cannot continue with business and permitting as usual because what we've been doing isn't working. We need clear, effective and enforceable policies and regulations to reduce pollution, especially from oil and gas production, buildings, transportation, and power plants where we already have proven and affordable technologies that will help clean up our air." 

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.