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DC Court Hears Appeal of EPA Decision on Uinta Ozone

Dan Bammes
Utah Division of Air Quality pollution monitoring station in Vernal

  A complex court case involving winter ozone pollution in Utah’s Uintah Basin came before an appeals court in Washington DC Tuesday morning.  The central question is how much federal regulators need to know before they can act to control pollution.

Back in 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency decided the winter ozone problem in the Uintah Basin was “unclassifiable,” and it decided not to designate it as a non-attainment area for federal ozone standards.  Environmental groups sued, arguing the EPA had all the information it needed to act.

Jeremy Nichols is the Climate and Energy Program Director with WildEarth Guardians, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

“Our concern is that EPA has already put off coming up with solutions to clean the air in the Uintah Basin," Nichols told KUER.  "We are operating without a firm, clear deadline for when this region is going to be safe for people.  That’s what we’re trying to accomplish here with this lawsuit.”

Since then, new studies have discovered much more about how ozone forms in the winter as emissions from oil and gas operations react with sunlight and snow.  Much of that research was paid for by an industry group, the Western Energy Alliance.

Kathy Sgamma is with the Alliance. She says it would be  better to scrap this lawsuit and base any new regulatory action on the new data.

“In asking EPA to make a premature designation, the environmental groups have wasted EPA’s time and resources," Sgamma says. "Y’know, those resources would be better spent addressing the issue, in accordance with the Clean Air Act, rather than a frivolous lawsuit that was asking them to rely on poor-quality data.”

The Uintah Basin lawsuit has been combined with similar cases from several other states.  The DC Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from attorneys for both sides Tuesday  morning, but hasn’t said yet when it might rule on the case.

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