EPA’s failure to address dangerous oxides of nitrogen pollution prompts lawsuit

OAKLAND, Calif. — Conservation and public health groups filed a lawsuit today [Sept. 28, 2023] challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to review and update air-quality standards that protect people from harmful nitrogen pollution nationwide.

Federal law requires the EPA to review the pollution standards every five years and improve them as needed to ensure they protect public health. Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland, says the agency has not reviewed the standards since May 2018 and has not updated them since 2010, despite new scientific evidence showing greater harms from nitrogen pollution than were previously realized.

“It’s unacceptable that the EPA is flouting the Clean Air Act and endangering public health and the environment,” said Ryan Maher, an environmental health attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Act only works if it’s followed. The EPA has ignored its obligations, amplifying harms from pollution to people all over the country. That’s illegal, so we’re asking a judge to make the agency obey the law.”

Nitrogen pollution is linked to a range of health problems, including increased risk of lung and heart disease, diabetes, birth problems, cancer and even death. This pollution also leads to excess nitrates in drinking-water supplies and soils, causing toxic algal blooms and harm to plants and wildlife.

“People and our environment suffer when our government’s checks on air pollution fail to keep up with the science,” said Kaya Allan Sugerman, director of illegal toxic threats at the Center for Environmental Health. “The EPA is failing to fulfill its responsibility as officials have dragged their feet on updating these crucial public health standards. It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to force the agency to follow the law.”

Since the EPA last updated the air-quality standards for nitrogen pollution in 2010, the research linking nitrogen oxides to a variety of health harms has only become stronger. For example, recent studies have suggested a connection between nitrogen pollution and higher rates of dementia, even at pollution levels below the current standards. It’s also been linked to depression and worse COVID outcomes.

“While the evidence on the dangerous public health impacts of nitrogen oxide pollution has grown, the air quality standards meant to protect communities have gone unchanged for too long,” said Joshua Smith, senior attorney at the Sierra Club. “Stronger standards are now long overdue, and communities are paying the price for the EPA’s inaction. Today, we’re proud to join our partners in taking steps to ensure our nitrogen pollution standards are as strong as science demands and communities deserve.”

Nitrogen oxides result from burning fossil fuels at sources like power plants and cars. This pollution can also transform into ozone, also known as smog, and soot pollution.

Today’s lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Environmental Health and the Sierra Club as part of an ongoing effort to compel the EPA to protect human health and the environment from air pollution, including nitrogen pollution, to comply with the Clean Air Act’s requirements.

More information about the fight against air pollution is available at Protecting Air Quality Under the Clean Air Act.

Source: “Lawsuit Challenges EPA’s Failure to Address Dangerous Nitrogen Air Pollution,” Sept. 28, 2023 Center for Biological Diversity press release.

Corresponding, connected home-page-featured image: European Environment Agency, 2012