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Protecting Impacted Communities

A child plays in Hartman Park of Houston, TX. The Valero oil refinery is in the background.

A child plays in Hartman Park of Houston, TX. The Valero oil refinery is in the background.

Photo by Eric Kayne / Earthjustice

Earthjustice is protecting our right to breathe clean air by making dirty industries clean up their pollution and prevent the harm they cause to nearby communities.

Nobody goes a day without breathing—but in many neighborhoods across the nation, breathing is a risky business. Oil refineries, coal plants, cement kilns and other heavy industries have for years fouled the air with toxic pollution, leaving residents who live nearby with a difficult choice: stay inside or venture out and risk becoming sick from breathing air that’s full of pollutants that can cause lung and heart disease, cancer, brain damage—and even death.

Seventeen years of Earthjustice litigation led to the first ever mercury and toxic pollution standards for new and existing coal-fired power plants. The new rules are expected to save up to 11,000 lives each year and avoid tens of thousands of asthma attacks by ensuring that the dirtiest power plants in the nation install the available technology to cut mercury, arsenic and other dangerous pollutants.

Earthjustice is defending impacted communities by:

  1. Guarding against industry attacks to EPA’s new mercury and air toxics regulations for coal-fired power plants. The regulations, issued after a decade and a half of Earthjustice legal pressure, are expected to save thousands of lives and reduce health care costs by millions.
  2. Forcing the EPA to update limits on toxic air pollution from oil refineries. About 150 oil refineries in over 30 states release more than 20,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants like benzene, cyanide and formaldehyde every year, threatening those living nearby with higher cancer rates, making it more difficult to breathe, and contributing to ozone that can harm lungs. Children, African Americans, Latino communities and low-income people face disproportionate health risks from refinery pollution. Recent studies have shown that the emissions actually going into the air from flares, tanks, and other components at refineries are 10 to 100 times higher than what industry reports to federal and state regulators. The EPA’s current rules are based on inaccurate emission estimates and outdated technology, and contain loopholes that leave communities unprotected, which is why new limits that address the real-world community health impact and ensure strong pollution protection are necessary.
  3. Protecting communities living around polluting facilities from mercury, cancer-causing chemicals and other toxic air pollution. Representing community groups across the country in a lawsuit challenging EPA attempts to delay and undermine enforcement of the first-ever toxic air pollution standards for cement kilns, one of the largest unregulated sources of mercury and other air toxics in the nation. Cement kilns emit mercury pollution—a threat to the health of pregnant women and children—at more than twice the level estimated as recently as 2006 by the EPA, which only started to collect data on the problem in 2007.
  4. Clearing the air in California’s Central Valley and Los Angeles. The air is so polluted in Los Angeles and the Central Valley that children and the elderly are often warned to stay inside. For over 10 years Earthjustice has been forcing the EPA and the local air district in the Central Valley to close loopholes and put measures in place to come into compliance with the Clean Air Act. We are now expanding these efforts to Los Angeles.