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Community Groups Sue EPA for Clean Air Enforcement in San Joaquin Valley

Citing a long history of neglect for California's San Joaquin Valley air pollution problems, a coalition of groups filed suit against the USEPA.
November 1, 2001
San Francisco, CA — 
Citing a long history of neglect for the San Joaquin Valley's air pollution problems, a coalition of medical, community, and environmental groups filed suit today in San Francisco against the federal Environmental Protection Agency. EPA's repeated failures to control both particulate matter and ozone pollution over the past decade have exacerbated the already high levels of air pollution in the Valley, endangering the health of all Valley residents.

Today's lawsuit asks the EPA to immediately:

· Take action on the Valley's 1997 Particulate Matter Attainment Plan. By not formally approving or disapproving this inadequate plan for this "serious" non-attainment area, the Valley lacks any enforceable strategies to eliminate particulates, and emissions continue to increase.

· Take action to disapprove four ozone precursor control rules -- targeted at internal combustion engines, stationary gas turbines, boilers, steam generators, and process heaters -- that contain an illegal exemption for pollution west of Interstate 5 in Kern, Kings, and Fresno counties, the location of most oil production.

· Take action on two PM rules submitted in 1993: one establishing a general limit on particulate matter emissions, and the other regulating particulate emissions from residential wood burning stoves.

In July, the Fresno-based Medical Alliance for Healthy Air, the Sierra Club, Latino Issues Forum, and the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment warned that if the law was not enforced immediately, they would bring a lawsuit to compel EPA to redesignate the Valley as a "severe" ozone area; to take action on the Valley's particulate matter (PM) control plan; and to act on six PM and ozone pollution control rules. On October 23, the EPA did reclassify the ozone pollution in the San Joaquin Valley from "serious" to "severe." This was an important first step taken seventeen months late. But much more needs to be done. Due to inaction on the remaining issues, today the groups went to court.

Bruce Nilles, attorney with Earthjustice who represents the coalition, said. "For the past decade EPA has pandered to oil companies, agribusiness, and developers at the expense of the breathing public in the San Joaquin Valley. We have no choice but to seek federal court supervision of this recalcitrant agency."

PARTICULATE MATTER, A KNOWN KILLER

Particulate matter, composed of tiny particles of dust and soot, is the most deadly form of air pollution, causing thousands of deaths each year. PM and ozone can both cause respiratory problems, including coughing, throat irritation, exacerbation of asthma, and permanent lung damage. The principal sources of PM are fugitive dust from unpaved roads, smoke from open burning and residential wood burning, cars and trucks, and chemicals emitted from industrial stationary sources.

"In our medical offices, we see patients come in waves when the air pollution gets bad. Pollution control is preventative medicine, and it's time for EPA to start protecting human health," said Dr. David Pepper of the Medical Alliance for Healthy Air.

Due to the high levels of particulate matter (PM) pollution plaguing the Valley, the region was designated in 1993 with the worst possible PM designation. As a "serious" area for PM pollution, the Valley was required to have a PM control plan in place by 1994. An inadequate PM pollution control plan was submitted to EPA in 1997, but EPA never took any action on this plan, leaving the Valley's PM problems to worsen. In addition, two PM control rules were submitted to EPA in 1993 -- one that set a general limit on PM emissions, and a second that would control PM pollution from woodstoves -- and EPA failed to take action on either one.

Today, seven years later, the Valley still lacks a plan to reduce levels of this deadly pollutant.

Leo Avila of the Latino Issues Forum stated, "Thirty years ago the federal clean air promised clean air for all residents. Because EPA has turned its back on the Valley, there has never been an approved plan to clean up the Valley's PM problem and protect our health."

EPA also failed to act on four ozone control rules that it received between 1996 and 1998, all of which would illegally exempt pollution sources on the west side of Interstate 5, where much of the Valley's oil production occurs.

"Emissions of particulate matter in the Valley have increased every year, and are projected to continue increasing through 2010. We have to stop these upward trends in air pollution," said Kevin Hall, a Fresno native, and member of the local Sierra Club chapter.

Brent Newell of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, noted, "EPA has apparently forgotten about the Valley, one of the most polluted regions of the country. Neglect of this magnitude is an insult to every person who has to breathe the Valley's dirty air on a daily basis."

On October 9, 2001, the Medical Alliance for Healthy Air, Sierra Club, Latino Issues Forum and Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment settled a related lawsuit against the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District. As a part of the settlement the Air District agreed to adopt six new measures over the next year to reduce the daily emissions of ozone-forming chemicals by more than six tons per day.


Contact:
Bruce Nilles, Earthjustice (415) 627-6700
Enrique Gallardo, LIF (415) 547-7550
Brent Newell, CRPE, Delano (661) 720-9140
David Pepper, MD, Medical Alliance for Healthy Air, Fresno (559) 459-5705
Kevin Hall, Sierra Club, Fresno (559) 227-6421