Press Release

EPA Strengthens Air Quality Designations Across the Midwest

More appropriate EPA ozone designations in the Midwest will better protect public health and reduce the risk of asthma and other lung ailments. Science and the law must drive Clean Air Act decisions, not pandering to corporate concerns.

Chicago — The U.S. EPA announced new ozone non-attainment area designations that will require several counties in the Chicago region to take actions to reduce pollution. These new more appropriate designations are made in response to a court decision in a set of lawsuits brought by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), Respiratory Health Association (RHA) and others. The ELPC lawsuit challenged the Trump administration EPA’s flawed 2018 findings that several counties did not “contribute” to pollution in nearby areas where ozone levels violate EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) and, thus, inappropriately exempted these counties from regulatory requirements for actions to reduce pollution.

Every five years, EPA must review the NAAQS under the Clean Air Act to determine if the level is adequately protective of human health, then “designates” the areas of the country that violate that standard or contribute to nearby violations as “nonattainment.” Areas that meet the standard are designated as in “attainment.” In July 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that EPA had not adequately supported its decisions and ordered the agency to re-do the designations. During the course of that legal challenge filed by ELPC and other parties, the EPA withdrew some of its prior positions and effectively conceded that its attainment designations could not be legally defended.

After reconsidering its designations, the EPA announced that it is now including McHenry County, Illinois, the northern half of Porter County, Indiana, and a larger portion of Kenosha County, Wisconsin, in the Chicago ozone nonattainment area. In the same action, EPA is also re-designating other counties or partial counties in Wisconsin and in the St. Louis area.

“The EPA’s latest decision means pollution sources in those areas will now be required to clean up emissions that contribute to the formation of ozone, a dangerous pollutant that can trigger asthma attacks and decrease lung function in even healthy individuals,” said Ann Jaworski, ELPC Staff Attorney. “It’s refreshing to have an EPA that won’t let polluters off the hook.”

“The former administrations in both Illinois and Washington, D.C., tried to ignore the smog threats in McHenry, Kenosha and Porter Counties, putting people’s health at risk and slowing our progress towards cleaner air,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association. “This decision vindicates our call that science and the law must drive Clean Air Act decisions, not pandering to corporate concerns that prioritize profit over people’s lives.”

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