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Gina McCarthy and Congress Talk Foreign Pollution

April 10, 2014

Gina McCarthy and Clean Air ActInteresting discussion in the House Energy & Commerce Committee last week between Gina McCarthy and Congressman Pete Olson about foreign pollution impacts on the U.S. (click here for video segment).

In the video Administrator McCarthy says the following:

 “The Clean Air Act does not ask States to reduce background levels.”

—Gina McCarthy, U.S. EPA Administrator 

I can’t find any legal support for this statement.  According to Section 107,  States are ultimately responsible for achieving the NAAQS regardless of where the NAAQS is set, and regardless of where the pollution is coming from (i.e. other States, other nations, trees, dust storms, stationary sources, mobile sources).

Each State shall have the primary responsibility for assuring air quality within the entire geographic area comprising such state by submitting an implementation plan for such State which will specify the manner in which national primary and secondary ambient air quality standards will be achieved and maintained . . .”(42 U.S.C. § 7407(a)). 

Although there are sections in the Act that provide some potential relief from this responsibility (i.e. 42 USC §§ 7509a , 7619, 7410(a)(2)(D)), 7426), I can’t find anywhere in the Clean Air Act that says that States aren’t ultimately responsible for reducing background levels.  If reducing background levels is necessary to achieve the NAAQS—then it appears to me that this is exactly what States must do.  In fact, I’ve been pointing out that States have already been knowingly or unknowingly reducing background levels for many years now in terms of offsetting foreign pollution impacts with additional local controls.

Time to do things differently.  Responsibility and authority must be aligned under the Clean Air Act in order to more efficiently and effectively reduce pollution for the benefit of our environment, our economy, and our nation.

The world is changing.  We must change with it.  Time to transform the SIP process.  We can make it happen.

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