By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal court on Monday ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to implement protections against smog set in 2015, the latest defeat in court by the agency as it rolls back environmental regulations.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the agency led by Administrator Scott Pruitt needs to move ahead to carry out the 2015 Ozone Standards and designate areas in the country that do not meet them.
The EPA has until April 30 to comply.
Pruitt "has failed to perform a non-discretionary duty imposed" to designate areas of the country that do not meet the standards set for levels of ozone, the main component in smog, the court order said.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said in an email: "We look forward to working with co-regulators to continue the designations process for the 2015 standards for ground-level ozone; we are evaluating the information provided by governors in February 2018 as part of that process."
Pruitt last June initially intended to stall the Oct. 1 deadline by one year, but quickly reversed course the next day, without saying whether he would honor the Oct. 1 deadline.
Sixteen state attorneys general as well as a coalition of environmental groups sued to force Pruitt to meet the deadline and implement the smog standards.
"It will help us protect families and communities by ensuring that EPA is moving forward to implement health-based protections to reduce smog," said Environmental Defense Fund attorney Rachel Fullmer.
Smog exacerbates conditions like asthma, especially in children and senior citizens.
Courts have blocked several attempts by the EPA and U.S. Interior Department to suspend regulations curbing methane leaks from oil and gas infrastructure.
Last June, the EPA restored a mercury protection rule after being sued by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, one of the AGs who sued the administration, said on Monday he will keep "a close eye" on whether EPA complies with the order.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Editing by Suzannah Gonzales)