Groups sue EPA over neglect of San Joaquin Valley particulate air pollution
provided by Earthjustice
s particulate matter air pollution season approaches in the San Joaquin Valley, community, environmental, and medical groups held a press conference at Fresno City Hall last month, announcing the filing of a lawsuit in federal court against the federal Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to take actions addressing the Valley's air quality problems nearly a decade ago. EPA was required by December 17, 1993 to impose sanctions on the Valley and develop a federally enforceable plan to regulate particulate matter (PM or soot) pollution. Today, the region still has no federally approved plan to regulate this deadly pollutant.
Because local officials in the Valley had not fulfilled their duties in regulating the pollutant, the Clean Air Act required EPA impose highway and stationary source offset sanctions, as well as to impose a Federal Implementation Plan by 1993, but EPA never fulfilled these duties. More than eight years later, EPA has still not imposed a plan or sanctions actions that would have had significant impacts on pollution levels in the Valley.
EPA has failed to act until it is absolutely forced to, said Susan Britton, attorney for Earthjustice, who represents the groups. Particulate matter is a form of air pollution that cannot be swept under the rug forever, because it's a killer.
PM a public health threat
Medical studies have shown that particulate matter is the most deadly form of air pollution. Not only does it exacerbate asthma attacks and respiratory disease, its particles are small enough to enter the bloodstream, causing heart attacks and accelerating death from all causes. According to a recent report published by the Environmental Working Group, there are over 70,000 asthma attacks each year due to PM pollution, and over 560,000 days of work lost due to the effects of this pollutant.
The major sources of PM pollution in the Valley are unpaved roads, farming operations, paved road dust, windblown dust, waste burning and disposal, construction and demolition, industrial processes, fuel combustion, and mobile sources (cars, trucks, and buses). Emissions of PM in the Valley have increased steadily since 1975 to among the worst in the nation and are predicted to continue increasing through 2010.
EPA's obligation to take action to control this pollutant emerged from a finding in 1991 that the local Air District had failed to submit for federal approval a plan to regulate PM emissions. When such a finding is made, the Clean Air Act mandates that if EPA does not approve a plan within 18 months, stationary source offset sanctions must be imposed. After 24 months, if no plan is approved, highway sanctions must be imposed, and federal EPA regulators must step in and take over the locals' duty to write the plan.
Moderate controls overdue, Serious controls promised
In 1990, the San Joaquin Valley was classified as a moderate area for PM-10 pollution. Two years later, the severity of the region's pollution led EPA to redesignate the Valley to serious, the worst classification available under the Clean Air Act, which carries more stringent requirements for pollution control than the moderate scheme. However, the Valley has never developed even the moderate level of controls.
EPA now claims that developing the Reasonably Available Control plan for PM would divert resources from the development of the Best Available Control plan. However, the serious plan is not expected to be approved by EPA until late 2003 at the earliest, and considering the 10-year track record of delay and inaction on this issue, community groups aren't banking on it.
That's like saying that your commuting teenager doesn't need a driver's license because he's studying for his truck driver's license test next year, noted Kevin Hall, Fresno resident and member of the Sierra Club. Before the more stringent controls are delayed again, we at least need the basic level of protection.
Dr. David Pepper, of the Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, remarked, It is hard to believe that EPA has ignored the particulate matter problem in the Valley for so long. More and more kids are getting asthma, and more older folks and people with respiratory problems are dying while the EPA delays.
We are very disappointed that the federal government has not stepped in sooner, said Raquel Donoso of the Latino Issues Forum. Community groups have more important work to do than suing to enforce the Clean Air Act. Protecting our community from preventable illnesses caused by air pollution must be the EPA's top priority. We are here to ensure that they do the job they are supposed to be doing.
The Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, the Latino Issues Forum, and the Sierra Club filed the lawsuit in the Northern District of California.
A copy of the complaint filed in this lawsuit and other documents are available online at www.earthjustice.org. More background on air pollution issues in the San Joaquin Valley can be found at www.CalCleanAir.org.