In the ongoing campaign to clean up the air in California’s San Joaquin Valley, health and environmental advocates have returned to federal court to seek enforcement of the Clean Air Act. This latest action challenges the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) refusal to come up with a new plan to protect residents of the San Joaquin Valley from harmful ozone pollution.
Thick layer of air pollution above the San Joaquin Valley, as viewed from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. (Richard Cain / NPS)
For years, smog levels in the San Joaquin Valley have ranked among the highest in the nation. A chief component of smog is ozone, a chemical that reacts in the body to cause lung damage and heart disease. To reduce these health risks, federal law established a limit on the amount of ozone emissions allowed during a one-hour period and required that the Valley attain the standard by November 2010. If the Valley failed to attain the standard, EPA and the local air district are supposed to develop a new plan to achieve prompt compliance with the one-hour ozone standard.
As has been the case before, the San Joaquin Valley missed the November 2010 deadline for complying with the one-hour ozone standard, and EPA took no action on the missed deadline for more than a year. Only after health and environmental advocates filed suit to force EPA to take action did the agency finally promulgate a decision on December 30, 2011, finding that the Valley had failed to attain the 1-hour ozone standard. In its decision, however, EPA refused to recognize the Clean Air Act’s mandate to develop a new 1-hour ozone plan for the Valley. The result is that Valley residents are unlikely to see improvements in air quality for decades to come.
Today’s petition for review, filed by the public interest law firm Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, asks the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reject EPA’s decision as a violation of the Clean Air Act.
“EPA’s delay in addressing the San Joaquin Valley’s ozone pollution problem is unconscionable,” said Earthjustice attorney Erin Tobin. “This court has already sent back one bad air pollution plan and will not look kindly on another round of word games by the EPA.”
In January, the Ninth Circuit rejected EPA’s approval of the Valley’s one-hour ozone plan, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.” Earthjustice represented the Sierra Club and Medical Advocates in that victory.
Kevin Hamilton, a Registered Respiratory Therapist and founder of Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, sees first-hand the effects of smog on his patients. “As our health crisis drags on, the EPA drags its feet. Instead looking for loopholes in the law they should be looking for ways to clean up our air.”
“The residents of the Central Valley suffer from some of the worst pollution in the country; we know it and the EPA knows it,” commented Gary Lasky, Vice Chair of the Tehipite Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Children and the elderly are the hardest hit, but we are all affected by the smog we breathe. We will not let the EPA turn its back on its responsibility to protect the people of the San Joaquin Valley.”
Erin Tobin, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2000
Kevin Hamilton, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, (559) 288-5244
Gary Lasky, Sierra Club Tehipite Chapter, (559) 790-3495
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