One day after getting sued by 15 states, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt reversed his earlier decision to delay implementation of Obama-era rules reducing emissions of smog-causing air pollutants.
Pruitt presented the change as his agency being more responsive than past administrations to the needs of state environmental regulators. He made no mention of the legal challenge filed against his prior position in a federal appeals court.
“We believe in dialogue with, and being responsive to, our state partners,” Pruitt said in a prepared statement.
At issue is an Oct. 1 deadline for states to begin meeting 2015 standards for ground-level ozone. Pruitt announced in June he would delay compliance by one year to give his agency more time to study the plan and avoid “interfering with local decisions or impeding economic growth.”
At the time, West Virginia political leaders praised Pruitt for that effort to delay the compliance, even though the state already meets the new EPA standards.
Wednesday’s sudden reversal is the latest legal setback for Pruitt’s regulatory rollback agenda. Last month, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled the EPA administrator overstepped his authority in trying to delay implementation of an Obama administration rule requiring oil and gas companies to monitor and reduce methane leaks.
Still, the EPA’s statement said Pruitt may at some point once again use his “delay authority and all other authority legally available” to ensure regulations “are founded on sound policy and the best available information.”
Republicans in Congress are pushing for a broader rewrite of the ozone rules. A House bill approved last month seeks to delay implementation of the 2015 rules at least eight years. The measure has not yet been brought to a vote in the Senate.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is a sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.
A spokeswoman said Thursday that Capito looks forward to “learning more about [EPA’s] decision to withdraw” the compliance extension,” but would continue to work for passage of her bill.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who led the coalition of states that sued the EPA this week, said the group intends to keep up the legal pressure.
“The EPA’s reversal — following our lawsuits — is an important win for the health and safety of those 6.7 million New Yorkers, and the over 115 million Americans directly impacted by smog pouring into their communities,” Schneiderman said.
New York was joined in the case by California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, and the District of Columbia.
Ground-level ozone is created when common pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, oil refineries, chemical plants and other sources react in the atmosphere to sunlight. The resulting smog can cause serious breathing problems among sensitive groups of people, contributing to thousands of premature deaths each year.