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Safeguarding air quality in the Denver metro area

WildEarth Guardians v. Wheeler
Case No.
Date Filed
March 26, 2019
State, Venue
Colorado, Colorado Federal District Court
Daniel Timmons, Samantha Ruscavage-Barz
Under the Clean Air Act, all areas of the country are legally entitled to healthy, clean air. For more than a decade, however, high ozone pollution levels in the Denver Metro-North Front Range Area in Colorado have exceeded federal air quality standards and threatened public health. In March 2019, WildEarth Guardians brought litigation to enforce a mandatory deadline set forth in the Clean Air Act, to hasten progress to clean up the region’s unhealthy air.

Specifically, Guardians sought to compel EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to carry out his overdue legal obligation to formally determine whether the Denver Metro-North Front Range Area complied with the 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone by the applicable attainment deadline. By law, the Administrator was required to make this determination by January 20, 2019, but it took a Guardians’ lawsuit to make it happen. Hastening this determination matters to residents and visitors to Denver and across the Front Range because it triggers a provision under the Clean Air Act requiring the State of Colorado to implement stricter standards for reducing ozone pollution in the region.

In July 2019, the Court granted Guardians’ motion for summary judgment on liability, determining that the EPA Administrator “failed to perform a nondiscretionary duty to make an attainment determination for the Denver Area regarding the 2008 Ozone NAAQS by January 20, 2019.” In December 2019, in response to Guardians’ watchdog, EPA finally made its belated determination that the Denver Area failed to attain compliance with the 2008 Ozone Standards. Guardians will remain a vigilant watchdog to ensure that EPA and the State of Colorado get to work developing an enforceable plan to clean up the region’s polluted air.