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Green groups plan to sue US EPA over alleged SO2 noncompliance

Environmental groups plan to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for allegedly failing to take action on cleanup plans in 12 different areas that exceed national standards for sulfur dioxide pollution.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Environmental Health and the Sierra Club on Oct. 15 informed the EPA that they intend to sue, arguing that the agency has failed to act on state implementation plans, or SIPs, in seven states as required under the Clean Air Act. States must submit nonattainment SIPs when they are found to be out of compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS. The NAAQS regulate emissions of carbon monoxide, lead, ground-level ozone, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and SO2.

SO2 pollution, which mostly is produced by coal-fired power plants, is the main ingredient in acid rain, and it can also contribute to a range of heart and lung diseases. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to take final action on a SIP by approving or disapproving it in full, or by approving and disapproving it in part, within 12 months of finding that it is complete. If the EPA has not made a completeness finding within six months of receiving a SIP, the submittal automatically is considered complete.

According to the environmental groups, the EPA is in violation of its statutory duty to take final action on SIP submittals in eight areas in Arizona, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky, including Louisville. "It has been more than 12 months since these submittals were found administratively complete by EPA or deemed administratively complete by operation of law," the groups asserted.

In addition, the groups said the EPA failed to make a formal finding that three more states did not submit SIPs on time. After the EPA designated four different areas in Illinois, Maryland and Michigan as out of attainment with the 2010 NAAQS for SO2, which established a new one-hour standard at a level of 75 parts per billion, those states were required to submit nonattainment SIPs by March 12, 2018, explaining how they planned to comply, according to the groups.

If states do not submit SIPs within six months of when they are due, the EPA is required to make a "finding of failure to submit," the groups argued. "More than six months has passed since the due dates for these submittals," the groups noted.

The Trump administration EPA has missed other deadlines for enforcing air pollution regulations.

A U.S. District Court judge in March ruled that former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt violated the law by failing to issue all area designations for the 2015 NAAQS for ozone by an Oct. 1, 2017, deadline. The agency eventually finalized those designations on May 1.

The EPA aims to reduce the number of areas in the country that are not meeting the NAAQS from a baseline of 166 as of October 2017 to 101 by Sept. 30, 2022, according to its latest five-year strategic plan.