Appeals Court Upholds Clean-Up Zone for Dallas-Fort Worth Area Air Pollution

Court Refuses to Exclude Wise County, Texas from EPA’s Health Standards for Smog

June 2, 2015
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396,

(Washington, D.C. – June 2, 2015) A unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today agreed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that Wise County, Texas must be part of the regional clean air plan to restore healthy ozone levels in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. 

The state of Texas, Wise County, Devon Energy — an oil and gas producer with significant emissions in Wise County – another producer and two trade associations had sued to block EPA from including Wise County in the Dallas-Fort Worth clean-up zone. EDF intervened in the case in defense of EPA’s clean air protections. 

“Today’s court decision will help ensure that oil and gas pollution sources in Wise County will do their fair share to restore healthy air for the millions of people living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” said Tomas Carbonell, senior attorney for EDF. “Now we should focus on working together to deploy common sense solutions to our air pollution problems, so we can protect the health of our families and communities.”

EPA has designated the Dallas-Fort Worth region as an area with unhealthy smog levels, and today the court panel unanimously affirmed EPA’s decision to include Wise County as part of that Dallas-Fort Worth region. 

In the opinion, the court noted:

          “As for emissions, the EPA concluded that oil-and-gas collection and production in the Barnett Shale reservoir — a gas-rich geological  formation covering a significant portion of Wise County – resulted in Wise County’s inclusion among the eight highest emissions-producing counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.”

The court found that EPA’s decision to include Wise County as part of the clean-up zone for the Dallas-Fort Worth area was firmly grounded in law and science, rejecting a suite of legal attacks and holding that EPA’s rigorous analysis “surpassed” reasoned decision-making. The court emphasized EPA’s findings that air quality is severely degraded near Wise County, noting in its opinion that: 

          “[I]n the Dallas–Fort Worth area, seven violating monitors surrounded Wise County and some of the monitors—including one located one-half mile from Wise County’s border—reported levels of ambient ozone higher than anywhere else in the United States.”

In addition, the court rejected claims by the state of Texas and by Wise County that long-standing provisions of the Clean Air Act violate the U.S. Constitution. The court noted that the Supreme Court: 

          “[H]as repeatedly affirm[ed] the constitutionality of federal statutes that allow States to administer federal programs but provide for direct federal administration if a State chooses not to administer it.”

The court held that: 

          “[T]here can be no suggestion that the [Clean Air Act] commandeers … the States.”

Smog, officially called ground-level ozone pollution, is one of the most severe and persistent air pollution problems afflicting the millions of people who live in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. 

Smog causes a range of health issues including aggravation of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, decreased lung function, and increased hospital and emergency room visits for respiratory conditions. Smog is associated with premature death in urban areas.

The American Lung Association estimates Dallas-Fort Worth is home to millions of people who are sensitive to smog-related health problems — including almost two million children, 750,000 elderly people, more than half a million people with asthma and almost 400,000 people with cardiovascular disease. 

Highly-cost effective solutions are available to help restore healthier air. They include common sense measures to substantially reduce the smog-forming emissions from oil and gas, clean air measures supported by the U.S. auto industry that will dramatically reduce the smog-forming emissions from new cars beginning in model year 2017 and the landmark Clean Power Plan that will reduce a suite of health-harming emissions from power plants.

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