2011-09-08 / Local & State

Too Costly for Business

Pa. Withdraws From 5 Federal Pollution Lawsuits

PITTSBURGH (AP) – The state’s decision to end its participation in several federal environmental lawsuits has raised concerns from local, state and national environmental organizations.

Neither the governor’s office nor the state Department of Environmental Protection announced that Pennsylvania had ended its participation in the one lawsuit concerning ozone, or publicly discussed the reasons for withdrawing from the other lawsuits, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Friday.

But the discussion over Pennsylvania’s decision took a different turn later on Friday when President Obama scrapped his administration’s controversial plans to tighten smog rules, bowing to the demands of congressional Republicans and some business leaders.

Pennsylvania officials, it seems, were among many groups that felt the proposed pollution regulations and lawsuits were too costly for business.

According to federal court records, the state withdrew from four cases it joined in 2010 in support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “endangerment’’ rule on Aug. 5. That ruling found that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollutants that contribute to climate change also jeopardize human health and should be regulated by limiting emissions from vehicles, power plants and other large stationary sources.

Pennsylvania was also listed in court documents as “terminated’’ from a 2008 federal lawsuit brought by New York that challenged the EPA’s 2008 smog regulations as too weak to protect human health. Pennsylvania was one of 12 states, along with the District of Columbia, that had sided with New York.

Then on Friday Obama announced that he’d directed the U.S. EPA to withdraw its draft ozone air quality standards, citing the burdens on business and the struggling economy.

Major industry groups had lobbied hard for the White House to abandon the smog regulation, and applauded Friday’s decision.

“The president’s decision is good news for the economy and Americans looking for work. EPA’s proposal would have prevented the very job creation that President Obama has identified as his top priority,’’ said Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.

Katy Gresh, a Pa. DEP spokeswoman, said in a statement to the Post- Gazette that “Just because DEP is not involved in litigation does not mean we don’t think air quality is important. Of course, improving the commonwealth’s air quality is a major part of our mission and our Bureau of Air Quality works daily to do just that.’’

Lauren Burge, staff attorney for the Group Against Smog and Pollution, a Pittsburgh based environmental organization, said the state’s decision to end participation in the endangerment cases calls that mission into question.

“The commonwealth’s decision to withdraw suggests the health and welfare of Pennsylvania residents is no longer a top priority,’’ Burge said.

National environmental groups had similar criticism for Obama.

“The Obama administration is caving to big polluters at the expense of protecting the air we breathe,’’ said Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters. “This is a huge win for corporate polluters and huge loss for public health.’’

Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia area have some of the nation’s worst levels of groundlevel ozone – a precursor to unhealthy smog.

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