In court papers filed here today, Earthjustice asked a federal court to order EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman to decide within 90 days whether Imperial Valley, CA must be reclassified under the Clean Air Act to a more serious air pollution category. Imperial Valley has violated federal health standards for airborne pollution for more than a decade. Consisting of soot, soil, dust, metals, and other particles, this particulate matter is linked to premature death, reduced lung function, and aggravation of lung disease. The Clean Air Act generally required attainment of particulate standards by 1994, and reclassification (or 'bump up') of areas missing that deadline to a more serious air pollution category. Reclassified areas must adopt more stringent controls to curb airborne particle pollution. Earthjustice is representing Sierra Club in its legal briefings.
"Delay has unfortunately become standard operating practice for the Bush administration on environmental issues," said David Baron, attorney for Earthjustice. "Perhaps an injunction will help the new EPA get to work to protect children, elderly, and those who need help the most in Imperial Valley. The science is solid on this matter; folks in this area and in other areas of the country with similar unhealthful air are at real risk. This isn't just some issue for some other city somewhere else to deal with. This is in our backyards."
The request for a court order came after EPA backed out of a settlement negotiated under the Clinton administration that would have required a bump up decision on Imperial Valley by June 30. Earthjustice today called for an end to EPA delays, citing dangerous levels of particulate pollution in the area. Imperial Valley violated health standards on 206 days last year, according to EPA estimates. On one day in 2000, the area recorded unhealthful levels 1000 percent over the health standard - more than double the level at which EPA says significant harm to people occurs. The death rate from respiratory diseases in Imperial County is more than double that in California, according to figures from the state's Department of Health Services.
Federal law requires EPA to reclassify communities to more severe air pollution categories within six months after the community misses a clean air deadline. This bump up in classification triggers stronger clean air requirements in each area, including tighter restrictions on pollution from major factories and stronger controls on pollution from mining and agriculture.
"The law required EPA to make these determinations a long time ago," said Dr. Bob Palzer, chair of the national Sierra Club's air quality committee. "It's an important step to ensure that public health is protected."
Adopted in 1970, amended in 1977, and again in 1990 by the first President Bush, the Clean Air Act requires the EPA Administrator to set primary National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for certain air pollutants that threaten public health and welfare.
For more information, please contact David Baron at 202.667.4500 x220 or Dr. Bob Palzer at 503.358.0178.
Ken Goldman, Earthjustice, 202.667.4500 x233
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