City joins plaintiffs in Clean Air Act suit

Action seeks to make EPA tighten standards for carbon dioxide emissions

October 24, 2003|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Baltimore joined a dozen states and 19 environmental groups yesterday in a lawsuit accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of poorly enforcing the Clean Air Act.

The action, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, seeks an order requiring the EPA to tighten standards for carbon dioxide emissions from cars, trucks, power plants and other industries.

EPA officials announced Aug. 28 that they lacked authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. But environmental groups said yesterday that the EPA is ducking its responsibility to control a major cause of global warming.

"We think it's a case of the EPA playing word games with something that has such a huge impact on human health around the world," said Craig Culp, a spokesman for the International Center for Technology Assessment, the lead plaintiff in the suit.

Culp said federal law gives the EPA jurisdiction to regulate environmental conditions that endanger human health - including carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

A byproduct of breathing, carbon dioxide is also created in great quantities by burning fossil fuels, including gasoline in cars and trucks and the coal and oil that fuel many power plants.

Environmentalists argue that the EPA, under the Democratic administration of President Bill Clinton, acknowledged its authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. But that changed with the election of Republican George W. Bush, whose administration disputes scientific arguments that "greenhouse gases" such as carbon monoxide are causing global warming.

"This administration wants to take a step backward," said David Willett, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, another plaintiff.

But John Millett, an EPA spokesman, said congressional reviews of carbon dioxide emissions in recent years have never prompted mandates for the EPA to pursue specific regulations on greenhouse gases.

Plaintiffs in the suit include several Northeastern states, including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont. Climate experts say that Maryland and other parts of the Northeast get more smog each summer because of greenhouse gases generated by power plants in the Midwest.

But a spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said he opted not to join in the suit because he is exploring "regional partnerships" with other Northeast states to address the issue.

"We're not prepared to join in a suit just yet," said Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman.

Millett said the EPA hopes to reduce greenhouse gases 18 percent over the next 10 years by encouraging industries to install energy-saving equipment and to sell energy-efficient products.

Environmentalists have criticized the Bush administration over the years for failing to strictly regulate automotive and industrial plant emissions.

Willett said several groups are expected to file another suit next week to reverse an EPA proposal to control pollutants emitted by industrial plants.

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