Today, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was reversing course and would now approve California’s particulate matter clean-up plans for the Los Angeles region and the San Joaquin Valley after rejecting the same plans just last fall.
In November of last year, the EPA proposed to disapprove major components of California’s plans for cleaning up deadly particulate matter pollution in the state’s most notoriously polluted regions because the plans would not achieve clean air by the deadlines set in the Clean Air Act. Clean air advocates had cheered that decision as a long-awaited sign that the EPA was finally ready to get serious about the public health crisis in these highly polluted areas.
Today, however, the EPA did a complete 180 and is now proposing to approve the defective plans, even though no changes have been made to correct the previously identified deficiencies.
“The South Coast and San Joaquin Valley have the worst air quality in the country, and people are suffering and dying because of it. We have seen one failed air quality plan after another rubber stamped by the State and EPA,” says Earthjustice attorney Paul Cort, who has worked on Clean Air Act issues for more than a decade. “We were encouraged last fall to finally see EPA pushing the State and local agencies for stronger plans, but with today’s decision, EPA is abandoning that leadership. Sadly, it is the regions’ children, elderly and those with compromised health that will pay for EPA’s lack of resolve.”
Airborne particulate matter is comprised of tiny particles of smoke, soot, metals and other chemical compounds emitted from sources like diesel engines, power plants, residential wood burning, and agricultural burning. Scientists say particulate matter, which can travel deep into our lungs and into our bloodstreams, is one of the most toxic forms of air pollution. They estimate that particulate matter is responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths nationwide every year—including more than nine thousand deaths in California. It is linked to the aggravation of respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive lung disease, and pneumonia, and to premature deaths from other causes, such as lung cancer and heart disease. Particulate matter is also responsible for much of the haze that clouds many of our cities and parklands.
Under the Clean Air Act, states are responsible for preparing air quality plans laying out the controls and strategies that will be implemented in order to meet national air quality standards. The EPA adopted national standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in 2006. The San Joaquin Valley and the Los Angeles Air Basin do not meet the national PM2.5 standards. In 2008, the State submitted its plan for meeting the PM2.5 standards in the Valley and L.A. In 2010, the EPA proposed to disapprove these plans. Several groups, including Earthjustice, submitted comments supporting the EPA’s proposed disapprovals. EPA’s announcement today is to re-propose approval of the plans submitted in 2008.