Ozone standards on trial

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week in the American Trucking Association’s challenge to stricter federal clean-air standards. At issue is the so-called “Eight Hour Ozone Standard,” adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency three years ago, but tied up in courts ever since.

The new standard requires states to achieve significantly lower levels of ozone, one of the components of smog that has been linked to asthma and other respiratory illness.

The ATA claims that Congress unconstitutionally delegated its authority to the EPA in setting the standards. If the court agrees, it could drastically alter the face of environmental regulation.

Aside from tossing out the stricter standards, the court could severely curtail the EPA’s authority to impose new regulations, leaving much of the work up to Congress. That’s a daunting prospect for environmentalists who believe that science is bound to get lost in the fray of Congressional politics.

Closer to home, U.S District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton last week tossed out a lawsuit brought by environmental groups who claimed that Sacramento area governments were acting in violation of the Federal Clean Air Act.

The Sierra Club, the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) and the No Way L.A. coalition sued the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) to block several road construction projects, including the widening of the Watt Avenue Bridge. The groups claimed that the regional transportation plan undermined plans to reduce air pollution significantly by 2005 or face heavy fines from the feds.

Judge Karlton dismissed the suit, saying the group had failed to prove that the transportation plan would lead to violation of federal standards.

Despite losing the suit, the groups can be credited with nudging local elected officials into action. Without the threat of the lawsuit, some doubt that the $70 million Sacramento Emergency Clean Air Transportation program—a cash incentive program aimed at meeting the 2005 deadline—would ever have been launched.