PORTAGE | Indiana's lawsuit against the U.S. EPA over Lake and Porter counties not meeting Clean Air Act rules for ozone could take years to resolve, the head of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management said Thursday.
"It could be two or three years before they actually get around to working on that case," IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly told the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission's Environmental Management Policy Committee.
One monitor in Zion, Ill., near the Illinois-Wisconsin border recorded an ozone level of 0.4 parts per billion over the standard on one occasion during the testing period. Because the EPA regulates air quality by region, the entire Chicago metropolitan area — including Lake and Porter counties in Indiana — were deemed out of compliance with the Clean Air Act for ozone.
Before the EPA action was announced in May 2012, Northwest Indiana was poised to meet the standards for the first time since the rules were implemented.
Illinois leaders, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., have supported the move, saying the designation brings with it much-needed funding aimed at reducing air pollution.
IDEM pleaded with EPA to allow Northwest Indiana to be considered separately from Illinois, but the feds denied the request. The state took the issue to the courts three times in 2012 requesting reconsideration and a stay of the designations. The moves were denied each time.
IDEM filed a state implementation plan and another request for designation as attaining the standards in December.
"I suspect they're not going to act on that in a way we want," Easterly said.
As he has in the past, Easterly blamed Illinois' decision in 2007 to exempt vehicles manufactured between 1968 and 1995 from emissions inspections for elevated ozone levels that pushed Lake and Porter counties out of compliance.
"EPA said those cars are aging out and going away," Easterly said. "We're investing all this money in new cars but doing nothing about older cars."