The environmental group Clean Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit today, challenging federal smog regulations in Wisconsin.
The group says the Environmental Protection Agency is failing to comply with the Clean Air Act.
The law was created in 1963 to limit air pollution. That means monitoring the air in specific places where pollution levels are too high, and eliminating emissions.
University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and environmental law expert, Steph Tai, explains that the EPA sets limits to a number of pollutants that can exist in the air, including smog.
“If an area is above that threshold it is called being in non-attainment,” Tai said. “In non-attainment areas that means a bunch of other standards kick in. Basically standards for the kinds of stationary sources that contribute to that level being above the maximum,” such as smokestacks and exhaust from vehicles.
Last December the EPA concluded that air pollution along Lake Michigan in southeastern Wisconsin exceeded those limits.
But in June the EPA changed its mind and shrunk the area the agency believed was over-polluted.
Clean Wisconsin disagreed and claims the EPA is ignoring its responsibilities.
Regardless how large the regulated the area is, Tai says the Clean Air Act is working.
“If you look at pictures before the passage of the Clean Air Act, you see a lot more air pollution in areas,” Tai said. “To the extent one questions the validity of the Clean Air Act and its impact on economics – I think our economy has gotten better and we reduced the amount of air pollution in very, very visible sorts of ways.”
The EPA and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources have been under pressure from Governor Scott Walker, who argues limiting emissions in Wisconsin is unnecessary because much of the smog found in Wisconsin actually blows over from Illinois and northern Indiana.
Tai says the Walker administration’s push for deregulation doesn’t make sense.
“If the legal reasoning contained in the final designation for the non-attainment area is that it’s not fair to designate a larger area of Wisconsin as non attainment because the pollutants are coming from other states – that doesn’t have anything to do with the designation of the non-attainment areas,” Tai said. “If it’s coming from other states, the way to deal with that is not by shrinking the area of non attainment, but rather by working under the Cross-State Air Pollution rule to get those other states to shift their polluting practices.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, the visible brownish haze is hazardous when inhaled, especially for the elderly and children. People living in smog-filled cities sometimes experience severe coughing, worsening asthma and trouble breathing.
Tai expects the federal circuit court in Washington, D.C. to take at least six months to hear the case.
Clean Wisconsin did not respond for comment. An EPA spokesperson said in a statement the agency is “reviewing the recently-filed lawsuit.”
Jackson Danbeck reported this story for WORT News.