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EPA Changes Put Courts in Environmental Spotlight

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Air pollution raises health risks for people with heart disease, asthma and other respiratory diseases.  (Martin Vorel/Wikimedia Commons)
Air pollution raises health risks for people with heart disease, asthma and other respiratory diseases. (Martin Vorel/Wikimedia Commons)
 By Andrea Sears, Public News Service - CT - Producer, Contact
June 25, 2018

HARTFORD, Conn. — Environmental advocates say the federal courts are serving an increasingly critical role in protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Since Scott Pruitt took over as Environmental Protection Agency administrator, he has repealed or delayed more than 30 environmental regulations, including bedrock provisions of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. According to Patrice Simms, vice president for litigation at the environmental law firm EarthJustice, that organization already has filed 100 lawsuits against the Trump administration to try to preserve regulations that protect public health.

"The agency is undertaking this effort largely without the benefit of clear justifications and detailed records and data that explain what the agency is doing, why it's doing it and what the impacts will be,” Simms said.

The administration claims that environmental regulations slow economic growth. But critics contend that the EPA disregards the economic value of preserving public health and the environment.

For example, eight Connecticut counties are out of compliance with minimum standards set by the Clean Air Act. Simms said when the EPA rolls back regulations, creates loopholes or delays enforcement of clean air rules, communities and individuals pay the price.

"It will be harder for those counties to come into compliance,” he said. “And that non-attainment, that dangerous level of air quality, will last longer and end up affecting more people."

Smog increases the risk of heart disease, asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments.

Several states, including Connecticut, have joined in lawsuits challenging the repeal or delay of environmental regulations. Simms pointed out that non-governmental groups have turned to the courts as well.

"Our clients are often community groups, farmworker communities, sometimes other nonprofit environmental and public-health organizations, scientists,” he said; “and we will continue to hold the government accountable to the law."

Simms added that the EPA is increasingly challenging the legal standing of those who file lawsuits against it, and bills introduced in Congress could block some legal challenges.

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