On February 28, 2002, the EPA partially disapproved four San Joaquin Valley rules designed to control emissions of nitrogen oxides ("NOx") because, among other deficiencies, they exempt sources of air pollution west of Interstate 5 from federal regulation (known as "the West Side Exemption"). These sources consist mostly of oil production facilities. WSPA challenged this disapproval on April 29, 2002. The groups' motion is a formal request to participate in the lawsuit in order to help the federal agency defend its action.
NOx are precursors to both ozone and particulate matter ("PM") pollution. Ozone and PM are both respiratory irritants, exacerbating respiratory conditions such as asthma. Additionally, ozone has been found to cause asthma in active children, and PM has been found to cause heart attacks and accelerate mortality rates from all causes. Asthma rates in the Valley are higher than both the state and national averages.
"Skyrocketing asthma rates in the San Joaquin Valley are a public health disaster," said Dr. David Pepper on behalf of Medical Advocates for Healthy Air. "It is absolutely unfair and unjust for certain industries to escape regulation through special deals. Every sector must join the fight against air pollution."
"Asthma disproportionately affects Latino children and children of color. With the magnitude of the air pollution problems in the Valley, we need aggressive pollution reductions," noted Enrique Gallardo, Senior Program Manager for Latino Issues Forum.
In November 2001, the same coalition of medical, community, and environmental groups sued EPA for not having finalized its proposed disapproval in 1998 of the West Side Exemption. This lawsuit forced EPA to disapprove the illegal exemption for the oil industry. EPA's disapproval will result in the imposition of Clean Air Act highway sanctions and 2:1 offset sanctions on the Valley if the deficiencies are not corrected within 18 months.
"The Valley's oil industry thinks it's above the law. They're seeking special rights to pollute – angling to be the region's only industry exempt from the Clean Air Act," said Kevin Hall of the Sierra Club. "We're merely asking that they obey the law and do their share to help end this health crisis because our children are literally dying from air pollution."
The San Joaquin Valley is currently classified by EPA as a "severe" ozone area. The local Air District has recently decided to voluntarily be reclassified to an "extreme" designation, a title currently held only by Los Angeles. For PM, the Valley already holds the worst possible designation.
"While we hope EPA would strongly defend its disapproval of the West Side Exemption, we are seeking intervention to make sure the Clean Air Act and public health are not undermined by special interests," said Brent Newell an attorney with the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment. "The Bush Administration has a less than stellar record defending environmental laws challenged by industry lawsuits."
"The West Side Exemption is just another example of how industry, not public health, dictates air pollution control in the Valley," said Deborah Reames of Earthjustice. "Exempting one industry from air pollution laws is patently illegal. It's time for the these guys to start playing by the rules."
The coalition of intervenors includes the Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, the Latino Issues Forum, the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, and the Sierra Club.