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Sierra Club Files Brief in Clean Air Act Lawsuit Against EPA on Detroit’s Excessive Ozone Pollution

Detroit, MI – The Sierra Club filed a brief in its lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) unlawful approval of Michigan’s request to move the Detroit area from nonattainment to attainment for ground-level ozone pollution. The Sierra Club alleges that Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and the EPA prematurely removed the nonattainment designation for ground-level ozone pollution from Detroit, and with it removed the state’s obligation to enact ozone reduction plans that will improve public health and save lives. 

The opening brief is the Sierra Club’s first opportunity to set out its arguments in the lawsuit. The EPA did not satisfy the requirements for redesignation because neither Michigan nor EPA sufficiently demonstrated that Detroit and the surrounding area’s air quality is actually clean enough to meet the ozone standard. The state and EPA also failed to show that the air quality improvement was the result of “permanent and enforceable” emissions reductions, especially given that the agencies relied on years where the pandemic-related recession depressed air pollution. The EPA also redesignated the area without making sure that Michigan had all required pollution rules to limit pollution from sources of ozone precursor pollution in place first.  

The Sierra Club asks the Court to vacate both of the rulemakings it challenged, encompassing EPA’s redesignation of the Detroit Nonattainment Area to attainment as well as its approval of Michigan’s request to exclude several high ozone readings from a Detroit air quality monitor located in an environmental justice community from its evaluation of compliance with the standard.

The Sierra Club is represented in the cases by its own Environmental Law Program and the Detroit-based Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. The Sierra Club’s brief can be found here and the standing declarations here. Earthjustice filed an amicus brief in support of the Sierra Club’s lawsuit on behalf of Michigan Clinicians for Climate Action and MI Air MI Health. The University of Detroit Mercy School of Law Environmental Law Clinic filed an amicus brief in support of Sierra Club’s lawsuit on behalf of the Detroit Hamtramck Coalition for Advancing Healthy Environments, the Eastside Community Network, and the Science Policy Network-Detroit.

Statement from Rhonda Anderson, environmental justice advocate and Sierra Club leader: 

"I’m disappointed in both Michigan and the EPA for allowing pollution sources to operate without the controls and emission reductions that my community deserves under the Clean Air Act. EPA Administrator Michael Regan promised he would take environmental justice seriously, however the agency's decision to illegally grant Michigan’s request to lift the nonattainment designation for ozone in my community renders his words hollow. Me and my community have a right to breathe clean air. To make that happen, we need the EPA to serve as a backstop in the face of pressure from polluters." 

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit


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