Environmental and public health groups in Los Angeles have filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce the amount of smog in the region. The groups claim that the EPA had a duty to require a clean-up plan for cities that do not meet smog standards. Despite the fact that Los Angeles does not meet the "one-hour standard" for ozone pollution, the EPA has not taken any action.
The federal Clean Air Act established the one-hour standard to measure the amount of ozone pollution (a major contributor to smog) in the air. For the amount to be acceptable, there must be less than .12 parts per million (ppm) of ozone in the air during one hour. The amount in the air around Los Angeles is much higher: .143 ppm. A 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act required the EPA to make a determination by 2011 as to which cities met or failed the test. If a city failed, state and regional authorities needed to implement a clean-up plan. Yet even though Los Angeles has failed the standard, the EPA has yet to make any determination.
A plan to reduce ozone would require tougher limits from cars, trucks, and other sources -- potentially very difficult in car-dominant Los Angeles. The city remains the smoggiest in the United States. Scientific studies show that smog inflames the respiratory system, leading to asthma attacks and premature deaths. Already, more than one million adults and 300,000 children in Los Angeles suffer from asthma. One study found that asthma deaths were double the amount of car crash deaths each year. Unhealthy levels of smog have also been linked to an increase in the number of babies born with serious heart defects.
If you suffer from serious respiratory problems, or your baby has a heart defect, that you believe may be linked to smog, you should consider taking action. If the smog comes from an identifiable source, such as a nearby power plant, you could file a toxic tort lawsuit. You would claim that the plant owners acted negligently and that the negligence resulted in your serious health problems or those of your child. However, if the source is more diffuse, such as thousands of cars upon the road, your path to relief may not be so clear. Your best option may be the one chosen by the environmental and public health groups: sue the ones responsible for enforcing pollution limits.
Unlike the other groups, there would be no question that you had standing. "Standing" is a basic requirement for any lawsuit to move forward. To have standing, the one suing must have been injured by the party being sued; there must be a connection between the behavior of the sued party and the injury; and a favorable court decision would allow you to obtain relief. Since environmental and public health groups are usually not the ones who suffer the injury, they may have trouble obtaining standing. There are some exceptions that allow "third-party standing," such as if the organizations represent people who would have standing to sue in their own right.