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Coalition of Environmental Organizations and States Sue EPA over Inadequate Mobile Source Toxics Rule

Victory: A coalition of environmental organizations and states today filed a lawsuit against the US Environmental Protection Agency stating that the agency's mobile source air toxics rule falls far short of fulfilling legal requirements of the Clean Air Act.
May 24, 2001
Washington, DC —

A coalition of environmental organizations and states today filed a lawsuit against the US Environmental Protection Agency stating that the agency's mobile source air toxics rule falls far short of fulfilling legal requirements of the Clean Air Act. Spearheading the litigation are Sierra Club, Earthjustice, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Natural Resources Defense Council and Attorneys General of New York and Connecticut. Groups supporting today's actions include the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials, the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators, and the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management. The Clean Air Act required EPA to reduce by 1995 the threat of toxic air pollutants from mobile sources, such as cars, trucks, buses, boats, snowmobiles, construction equipment, aircraft and lawn equipment, and motor vehicle fuels. The final rule, adopted in December 2000 and released by EPA in March 2001, adopts no new controls on toxic emissions from motor vehicles or motor vehicle fuels.

"It is crucial to public health that EPA set effective standards to reduce these toxic pollutants," said Jim Pew, an attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the environmental groups in court. "But EPA's regulations do nothing. In fact, they allow emissions of the worst pollutants to increase."

That mobile source air toxics are dangerous is not in dispute. Benzene is known to be a human carcinogen, and formaldehyde, 1,3-butadiene, acetaldehyde, and diesel particulate are probable carcinogens and powerful asthma triggers. EPA estimates that motor vehicles, construction equipment, lawn and garden equipment, and other mobile sources emitted 1.6 million tons of toxins in 1996. According to an EPA study, more than 250 million people nationally are subject to an unacceptable cancer risk due to mobile source toxic pollutants.

"Communities throughout New York, particularly heavily congested neighborhoods, are hard hit by toxic air pollution from cars and trucks. EPA's failure to adopt timely, comprehensive, and common sense regulations to reduce these pollutants is unacceptable. As a result, I am filing this lawsuit to protect the health of all New Yorkers," said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

The final rule ("Control of Emissions of Hazardous Air Pollutants from Mobile Sources") was issued by EPA in response to a Sierra Club lawsuit designed to enforce provisions of the 1990 Clean Air Act. The act states that EPA should promulgate regulations containing requirements to control hazardous air pollutants from motor vehicles and motor vehicle fuels. Section 202(l) of the Clean Air Act states "The regulations shall contain standards for such fuels or vehicles, or both, which the Administrator determines reflects the greatest degree of emission reduction achievable....The regulations shall, at a minimum, apply to emissions of benzene and formaldehyde." The final rule provides no reductions whatsoever, and postpones the decision on whether or not to require additional controls until July 2004.

Richard Blumenthal, Attorney General of Connecticut stated, "Tragically, EPA has done nothing to act against the toxic air pollutants from mobile sources, virtually ignoring its authority under the Clean Air Act for more than 10 years. For the sake of our health and breathing, EPA must take positive steps to help curb toxins from these sources. EPA is failing in its legal duty to fight air contamination from cars and other moving polluters."

Although STAPPA and ALAPCO, the two national associations representing air pollution control officials in 54 states and territories and more than 165 major metropolitan areas across the country, are not taking legal action to challenge EPA's rule, John Elston and Eric Skelton, Co-Chairs of the Associations' joint Mobile Sources and Fuels Committee, have indicated that the groups support the lawsuit being filed.

"Mobile sources represent the predominant source of toxic air pollution in this country. EPA's own data confirm this. Yet the agency, notwithstanding the clear statutory mandate to regulate mobile source air toxics, has adopted a rule that does nothing to reduce toxic emissions from mobile sources or fuels," said Elston, Administrator of the New Jersey Office of Air Quality.

"We counted on EPA to exercise its authority to ameliorate this critically important public health problem," explained Skelton, Director of the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority. "Instead, the Agency has deferred any meaningful action for at least four years. This has serious consequences for the entire nation and, further, leaves areas like Spokane, which are unable to adopt the federal reformulated gasoline program, without even marginal protection against elevated levels of benzene in gasoline."

"This pollution problem imposes a huge threat to people in urban areas," added Eric Uram, Midwest representative for Sierra Club. "More than half of the cancer-causing air pollution there comes from trucks, buses, and cars. By following what the Clean Air Act says, we get meaningful improvements in the air that people in cities are obliged to breathe. The EPA rule is not only disappointing, it is also illegal."

Jon Devine, attorney with NRDC, stated, "Given the public health effects of toxic emissions, we frankly find it hard to believe that EPA failed to require any reduction in these dangerous pollutants from mobile sources."

"What makes EPA's regulations especially disappointing is that major reductions could be achieved through simple common sense measures," stated Dick Valentinetti, Director, Air Pollution Control Division, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. "EPA has estimated that levels of the worst toxin, benzene, can be significantly reduced for less than one cent per gallon. But EPA's standards will allow the benzene in fuel to increase. We've been able to build efficient vehicles for decades. But EPA's rule does nothing to discourage the growing use of gas-guzzling, toxin-spewing SUVs."

Ken Colburn, Director, Air Resources Division of New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services stated, "We could also significantly clean up toxic emissions from non-road sources, such as boats and lawn and garden equipment with economical solutions. A chainsaw catalyst, for example, is only $5. But even though non-road sources account for almost half of all mobile source toxics, EPA's rule doesn't even address them."

Connecticut DEP Commissioner Arthur J. Rocque, Jr, said, "Connecticut is working aggressively to achieve reductions in toxic air pollution from stationary sources, construction equipment, school buses, and other sources within our authority. Unfortunately, states are largely pre-empted from setting toxic emission control standards on newly manufactured motor vehicles and fuels. We need EPA to step up to the plate and take this action to fight asthma and improve the health of our citizens."

Jason Grumet, Executive Director of the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, commented, "NESCAUM commends the states of New York and Connecticut for taking this action to protect our region's health and environment. We look forward to working with EPA on a revitalized effort that will ensure that the planes, trains, automobiles, powerboats, backhoes, snowmobiles, chainsaws, weedwackers, and the fuels that power them do not exact an unacceptable toll on public health."

"In 1990, Congress recognized that mobile sources are a toxic problem, and it mandated the greatest achievable degree of reduction in their emissions. EPA has just passed regulations that allow the toxicity of our fuel to get even worse. It's time to move forward and protect people from this serious but avoidable health risk. We're asking the Court to make EPA follow the law, and do its job," said Gene Karpinski, Executive Director of US PIRG.

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