What's at Stake
Cities in California’s Central Valley dominate the American Lung Association’s top ten list of areas with the worst air pollution, yet meaningful action to improve air quality in the region is nonexistent. Earthjustice is challenging EPA’s cycle of inaction to ensure that the millions of people who live and work in the valley are protected.
For more than a decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has neglected to take any concerted action to address the air pollution crisis in California’s Central Valley. Meanwhile, more than half a dozen cities in the region annually take top spots among the nation’s dirtiest places to live.
On the streets of these communities, millions of people are exposed daily to intolerably dangerous levels of ozone and soot—released by the drilling operations, diesel trucks and factory farms that operate throughout the region. Illness is the result, particularly in children, the elderly and individuals with respiratory problems like asthma.
The crisis is avoidable, but it will require more from EPA and the Central Valley air district than what’s been done thus far: a series of weak state plans that collect dust on federal desks for years. Earthjustice is pursuing two lawsuits against the EPA that seek strong, timely and enforceable controls against ozone pollution in the Central Valley. We are meeting with the EPA to discuss new approaches that will break the agency out of the pattern of delay followed by approval of air quality plans that will not be sufficient to clean the air.
Two new studies published this week by UCSF and Harvard’s School of Public Health stress just how harmful air pollution can be to society’s most vulnerable members – children, infants, and developing fetuses. Early exposure to nitrogen oxide, diesel particulates and other airborne metals, the studies show, can impair lung and immune system development and lead to long-lasting health problems such as asthma and autism.
A new air pollution standard approved by the Obama administration is expected to save lives, increase life expectancy and reduce illness in communities affected by air pollution. The EPA estimates annual savings in healthcare and other costs to be around $4 billion to $9.1 billion. The new rules came about in response to Earthjustice litigation.