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White House Reverses Effort To Delay Obama Ozone Regulations


Earlier this summer, the Trump administration said it would delay implementing a new standard for ozone emissions, one of the major components of smog. That delay was going to be for a year. But this week, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt reversed himself. He said he would no longer seek to put off the regulations which go into effect on October 1. NPR's Brian Naylor has the latest.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The ozone regulation was approved two years ago by the Obama administration. It lowers from 75 to 70 parts per billion the amount of ozone allowed in the atmosphere. Last June, EPA administrator Pruitt said the agency decided to give states more time to come into compliance with the regulation. Environmental groups filed suit and were joined this week by 15 states and the District of Columbia, which argued Pruitt didn't have the authority to unilaterally change the regulation and that the delay was illegal. Now those groups are claiming victory. John Walke is an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

JOHN WALKE: We were thrilled that the Trump EPA backed away from its illegal delay smog cleanup for all Americans. We wish the decision had not been made in the first instance to break the law and harm people. But having retreated, one can only celebrate that decision.

NAYLOR: Seth Johnson of the environmental group Earthjustice says he has no doubt the lawsuit forced Pruitt to change his mind.

SETH JOHNSON: The EPA withdrew its illegal action the day before its response was due. I think they saw the writing on the wall.

NAYLOR: Others who had fought the lower standards were not pleased. The American Petroleum Institute issued a statement saying that evidence shows that ambient ozone levels are declining already and that progress can continue under existing regulations. In his statement, EPA administrator Pruitt said the EPA does not believe in regulation through litigation, and we take deadlines seriously. But he said the agency may take future action to use its delay authority and all other authority legally available. Johnson says his group will be watching.

JOHNSON: I think they're trying to leave themselves room to make mischief. Health groups and environmental organizations as well as states are going to continue to watch as they move ahead with implementing the standard to make sure that they follow the law.

NAYLOR: The regulation says that states have to announce by October 1 whether they're in compliance with the lower standards. If not, they have anywhere from three to 15 years, in some cases, to meet them. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.


NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.