After thirty years of blown deadlines, inadequate plans, and broken promises, a coalition of Bay Area community and environmental groups filed suit today against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce Clean Air Act requirements needed to meet the national standard for ozone which protects public health. The lawsuit was filed this morning in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund on behalf of Bayview Community Advocates, Communities for a Better Environment, the Latino Issues Forum, the Sierra Club, the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, and the Urban Habitat Program. Our Children's Earth Foundation has also notified EPA of its intent to sue and will be joining this lawsuit shortly.
Over a year ago, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and the Association of Bay Area Governments prepared an Attainment Plan intended to reduce regional air pollution to meet the ozone standard by November 15, 2000. The EPA has a mandatory duty under the Clean Air Act to either approve or disapprove this Attainment Plan. Despite this clear responsibility, the EPA has failed to take any action even though the Attainment Plan has proven wholly incapable of meeting the ozone standard. The Clean Air Act requires that if EPA disapproves an Attainment Plan, no new highway projects can be added to existing transportation plans until an improved Attainment Plan is approved.
"The EPA must act now and disapprove the Attainment Plan," said Deborah Reames, attorney for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. "For 30 years local agencies have made half-hearted efforts that have failed to clean up our air. Local agencies develop plans that rely on overly-optimistic estimates of technical fixes to show that the ozone standard will be met. But violations just continue, deadlines are blown, and a new round of overly optimistic planning begins again. This latest Attainment Plan is simply more of the same. If EPA won't disapprove the Attainment Plan itself, our only option is to go to the courts."
"Public health demands real and enforceable emissions reductions instead of this endless shell game," said Kathryn Alcantar of the Latino Issues Forum. "Low income and minority communities breathe more dirty air than others in our region. When the EPA fails to do its job, it's minorities and the poor that bear disproportionate health impacts."
"It's time for this pattern of junk plans and failure to stop and if it means a speed-bump for the highway builders then so be it. Car and truck emissions produce half of the air pollution in the Bay Area. Time and money spent moving people by means other than the private automobile would improve quality of life for everyone," added Martha Olson with the Urban Habitat Program.
Richard Drury, an attorney for Communities for a Better Environment said, "It's a shame that Bay Area communities must bring in federal courts to enforce the Clean Air Act. But after 30 years of foot dragging by local agencies and the EPA, it looks like a kick in the pants is needed."
Our Children's Earth Foundation's Executive Director Tiffany Schauer stated, "It is high time that EPA provided oversight to the Bay Area agencies who are failing to comply with the federal Clean Air Act. The diversity of the coalition bringing this lawsuit demonstrates its importance to the health of children throughout the Bay Area."
Earthjustice is being assisted by attorneys from the Golden Gate Law School's Environmental Law and Justice Clinic, Communities for a Better Environment, and the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund.
Contacts: Deborah Reames, Earthjustice, 415-627-6700; Richard Drury, CBE, (510) 302-0430; Kathryn Alcantar, Latino Issues Forum, (415) 284-7209; Martha Olson, Urban Habitat Program, (415) 561-3338; Helen Kang, Golden Gate Law School Clinic, (415) 442-6693.
Brian Smith, Earthjustice, 415-627-6700
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.