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San Joaquin Valley Medical Community and Environmental Groups Announce Upcoming Lawsuit To Enforce Clean Air Act

Medical, community, and environmental groups announce intention to sue U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District in 60 days for failure to stop the unhealthy air pollution in San Joaquin Valley.
July 17, 2001
Fresno, CA —

At Fresno City Hall, medical, community, and environmental groups announced their intention to sue both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District in 60 days for failure to stop the air pollution that threatens the health of all San Joaquin Valley residents.

The lawsuits will be brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Fresno-based Medical Alliance for Healthy Air, Latino Issues Forum, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment and the Sierra Club.

On May 1, 2001, the American Lung Association released a report demonstrating that three of the five most polluted places in the nation are situated in the San Joaquin Valley. Breathing is more dangerous in Bakersfield, Fresno and the Visalia-Tulare-Porterville area than any place in the nation except Los Angeles. In 1998 the San Joaquin Valley exceeded the 8-hour ozone standard 82 times. This compares only to Los Angeles with 92 days over the limit. The year 2001 may set a new record for air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley.

"While most other areas in the country have shown at least modest improvement in controlling smog and soot, in a few years the San Joaquin Valley will become the most smog-polluted region in the United States," said Dr. David Pepper of the Medical Alliance for Healthy Air. "Medical professionals are shocked by increasing numbers of children and the elderly forced into the emergency room each summer because they cannot breathe."

Costs to Human Health in the Valley

The lung damage caused by ozone exposure may be likened to the lung damage caused by cigarette smoking. People who live in areas with polluted air have blacker lungs than people living in areas with clean air. EPA's own studies conclude that, nation-wide, pollution from smog and soot causes 60,000 premature deaths annually more than auto accidents or homicides. Air pollution exacerbates asthma attacks, increases risks of heart attacks, and increases emergency room visits and work-loss days.

"In the Central Valley Latino communities not only live in areas with poor air quality but are also impacted by the fact that a large percentage of Latinos do not have access to health care or are unable to communicate with health care providers," said Leo Avila, Board President of Latino Issues Forum.

More than 40% of all Latino adults and one-third of all Latino children do not have health insurance. These factors make a difficult situation a fatal situation.

While the growing asthma problem in the United States has increased rates of asthma-related mortality and hospitalizations, especially among children, air pollution is also a leading cause of school and work absenteeism. San Joaquin Valley residents are literally dying for a breath of clean air.

"Other regions of the United States have balanced the need for clean air with economic development," said Kevin Hall, a Fresno native, and member of the local Sierra Club chapter. "Even Los Angeles has made significant air quality improvements over the last decade while things have not improved here. They have found some good solutions we could implement, if we had the political courage. Unfortunately, the scales in the Valley have repeatedly tipped in favor of unrestrained pollution. The regional Air District is allowing pressure from industry groups to trump public health. Agency inaction has forced this community to sue to protect the health of our families."

Agriculture: Polluter and Victim

In a November 15, 2000 report to State Senator Jim Costa, D-Fresno, the California Air Resources Board disclosed the amount of reactive organic gas, a smog forming agent, and ammonia, a toxic gas which forms fine soot particles in the atmosphere. The report shows that agricultural sources emit more than 23% of total reactive organic gas emissions and 86% of total ammonia emissions in the San Joaquin Valley. A CARB scientist published a study in 1999, which indicates that ammonia based soot, ammonium nitrate, constitutes 15-50% of total soot in the air, depending on location and time of year.

"The dairy industry stakes claim to the largest source of agricultural air pollutants," said Brent Newell, attorney with the Delano-based Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. "While dairies emit 10% of total reactive organic gas and 44% of total ammonia, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has exempted agricultural sources, including dairies, from air pollution rules."

Studies also show high levels of smog impact agriculture yields in the Valley, an important food source for the nation and the economic engine of the region. Exposure of plants to ozone pollution inhibits photosynthesis and alters carbon allocation, in turn suppressing the growth of crops and trees by decreasing their capacity for growth and maintenance. This growth suppression and associated loss of vigor increases insect and pathogen attacks. The economic impact is staggering. The San Joaquin Air District estimates the annual cost of crop damage due to air pollution to be in excess of $150 million.

Costs to National Parks and Tourism

"I'm proud that it was my dad's signature on the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 that helped reduce acid rain and urban air pollutions."

- George W. Bush, Sequoia National Park, (May 30, 2001)

Even the high Sierra - seemingly so removed from population centers - is not spared the effects of dirty air transported from the Valley: forty percent of Jeffrey and Ponderosa pines in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks show obvious signs of damage from smog, and visibility from those Parks, once famous for their sweeping vistas, has been radically reduced over decades. These are now two of the most polluted national parks in the entire country, on some days even more polluted than Los Angeles. This has economic consequences, as the diminished quality of the recreational experience in these heavily-visited Parks impacts nearby Valley communities that rely on dollars generated by Park tourism and associated services.

Legal Action

Letters sent to Christine Whitman, administrator of the EPA and David Crow, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Control District, begin the process for the filing of a citizen enforcement action in federal district court as authorized under the Clean Air Act.

"When state and local agencies responsible for clean air violate the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to enforce standards and deadlines," said Deborah Reames, attorney for Earthjustice. "When the EPA fails to do the job, the Act empowers citizen groups to sue for enforcement. Residents of the San Joaquin Valley seem to have little choice but to sue if they want to protect public health."

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SUMMARY OF 60 DAY NOTICE ACTION

The Fresno-based Medical Alliance for Healthy Air, Latino Issues Forum, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment and the Sierra Club today took the first step in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District for violations of the Clean Air Act -- they filed two 60-Day Notice-Of-Intent-To-Sue Letters to these two agencies detailing the nineteen missed deadlines for action.

Why: San Joaquin Valley has missed every deadline for clean air since passage of the 1970 Clean Air Act, including the December 31, 1993 soot attainment deadline and the November 15, 1999 smog attainment deadline. The same will be true for the revised December 31, 2001 soot attainment deadline because the Valley has already experienced too many violations to possibly meet this latest soot deadline. And rather than improving, air quality appears to be getting worse: soot emissions have increased steadily since 1975, and smog pollution is already this year 60 percent higher than last year. These suits are a focal point of a concerted effort by these organizations and their allies to promptly get the San Joaquin Valley back on track to clean and healthy air for all of its residents.

These Notices Identify Two Responsible Parties:

1) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - This is the federal agency that is supposed to ensure that all of the nation's residents have clean air, and stepping in when local governments fail to get the job done. However, we have recorded over thirteen specific instances in the past seven years where EPA has failed to act as required by law. The most egregious violations are EPA's inaction on redesignating the Valley to a "severe nonattainment" area for smog -- when it does, it will force new pollution control measures be implemented on factories, power plants and other large polluters. In addition, EPA has failed to disapprove two illegal Air District Rules exempting oil refineries from federal enforcement under the Clean Air Act, and exempting giant factory farms from any regulation, whatsoever. The law requires EPA to promptly disapprove such special interest rules, and force the local government to do better. This is a straightforward deadline suit to compel EPA to promptly redesignate the Valley as "severe" nonattainment, and reject these special interest rules, as the law requires.

2) San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District - This is the frontline agency that is supposed to develop and implement EPA-approved plans to protect the Valley's air. The declining air quality, and the agency's overall inaction demonstrates how the Air District has been captured by the oil industry in southern San JoaquinValley and other powerful industrial interests. Specifically six pollution control measures regulating smog-causing pollution from a variety of sources, including oil wells, commercial charbroiling and architectural coatings, were supposed to be adopted and implemented by 1998. The Air District never acted on these measures. This suit is to compel the Air District to promptly adopt and implement these six air quality protection measures.

ONGOING FAILURE TO ATTAIN NATIONAL HEALTH STANDARDS; EPA AND AIR DISTRICT BLOW 19 DEADLINES TO ACT

I. Three Most Recent Missed Deadlines For Attaining National Standards

December 31, 1994 - Deadline for Valley to attain soot standard

November 15, 1999 - Deadline for Valley to attain smog standard

December 31, 2001 - Deadline for Valley to attain soot standard

II. Nineteen Reasons Why The San Joaquin Valley Continues To Violate National Standards:

1995

1. May 18 - EPA required to approve/disapprove District Rule 4201 regulating soot pollution - NO ACTION TAKEN

2. June 10 - EPA required to approve/disapprove District Rule 4901 regulating soot pollution from residential wood burning - NO ACTION TAKEN

1996

3. May 15 - EPA required to approve/disapprove contingency measures in Air District's 1994 Ozone Attainment Plan - NO ACTION TAKEN

1997

4. May 15 - EPA required to approve/disapprove District Rule 4351 (Boilers / Steam generators) - NO ACTION TAKEN

5. May 18 - EPA required to approve/disapprove District Rule 4201 (Restricting soot emissions) - NO ACTION TAKEN

6. June 10 - EPA required to approve/disapprove District Rule 4901 (Woodburning stoves) - NO ACTION TAKEN

1998

7. April 1 - Deadline for Air District to implement Rule 4601 regulating pollution from architectural coatings - NO ACTION TAKEN

8. July 1 - Deadline for Air District to implement Rule 4692 regulating pollution from commercial charbroiling - NO ACTION TAKEN

9. July 1 - Deadline for Air District to implement Rule 4411 regulating pollution from oil production well cellars - NO ACTION TAKEN

10. July 1 - Deadline for Air District to implement Rule 4663 regulating pollution from organic solvent waste - NO ACTION TAKEN

11. July 1 - Deadline for Air District to implement Rule 4412 regulating pollution from oil well drilling rigs - NO ACTION TAKEN

12. August 12 - Deadline for EPA to approve/disapprove Air District Rule 4305 (Boilers / Steam generators) - NO ACTION TAKEN

13. October 1 - Deadline Air District to implement Rule 4623 regulating pollution from organic liquid storage - NO ACTION TAKEN

1999

14. January 24 - Deadline for EPA to approve/disapprove Air District 1997 Soot Attainment Plan - NO ACTION TAKEN

15. May 21 - Deadline for EPA to approve/disapprove Air District Rule 4701 (Internal combustion engines) - NO ACTION TAKEN

16. May 21 - Deadline for EPA to approve/disapprove Air District Rule 4703 (Gas turbines) - NO ACTION TAKEN

2000

17. March 29 - Deadline for EPA to approve/disapprove Air District Rule 2020 (permit exemptions) - NO ACTION TAKEN

18. April 27 - Deadline for EPA to approve/disapprove Air District Rule 2201 (permit obligations) - NO ACTION TAKEN


19. May 16 - Deadline for EPA to find Valley did not attain smog standard and "bump-up" region to "severe" smog designation - NO ACTION TAKEN

Contacts

Brian Smith, 415-627-6720 x206

415-412-4168 (mobile)

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