A federal judge has required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to decide whether San Antonio meets federal ozone standards by July 17, two-and-a-half weeks earlier than the agency had originally planned to.

Even with the shortened timeline, San Antonio will still be the last city in the United States to find out whether it officially meets the air quality standards for ozone, a key component of smog that’s tied to asthma and other chronic lung conditions.

The Monday order came out of a court case in California’s Northern District pitting environmental and public health groups and states with Democrat-controlled state houses against the EPA and its Administrator Scott Pruit, formerly Oklahoma’s attorney general

In the order, U.S. District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. wrote that Pruitt “violated his nondiscretionary duty under the Clean Air Act” when the EPA missed an Oct. 1 deadline to say which areas meet ozone standards.

In November, the EPA released a list of 2,646 counties with air clean enough to meet the standard. For almost everywhere else, the EPA said it would make a decision by April 30, a timeline the court approved.

That doesn’t include Bexar County and seven counties surrounding it. The EPA had originally wanted to wait until Aug. 10 to make its decision for the San Antonio area, saying it needed more time to receive and process additional information from the state.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been lobbying against additional ozone regulations for San Antonio, with a spokesman saying in January that the information should be sufficient to prove San Antonio should meet the ozone standard.

In his order, Gilliam commented on the EPA’s delay for San Antonio at the state’s request.

“The circumstances here are particularly notable: Texas waited until just four days before EPA’s deadline to ask the agency for additional time,” Gilliam wrote. “Though EPA could have declined Texas’s request, EPA gave Texas nearly six additional months to provide the agency with more information.”

San Antonio’s three-year average high ozone levels reached 74 parts per billion in late 2017, above the federal standard of 70 parts per billion set in 2015. That three-year average is now at 64 parts per billion with the spring, summer, and fall high ozone period not yet begun.

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is the San Antonio Report's environment and energy reporter.