Toxic pollutants emitted by cars, trucks, and buses include benzene, formaldehyde, 1,3-butadiene, acetaldehyde, and diesel exhaust, all of which are known or probable carcinogens. These pollutants are also associated with devastating health effects including miscarriage, reproductive and developmental disorders, asthma and other respiratory problems.
The Clean Air Act required EPA to complete emission standards for all of the toxic pollutants - including "at a minimum" benzene and formaldehyde - by May 1995. The Act further requires that EPA's standards reflect the "greatest degree of emission reduction achievable," considering the agency's other mobile source standards, cost, safety, energy, and lead-time.
But in March 2001, almost six years after the statutory deadline expired, EPA issued new standards that require no reductions in any pollutants, and actually allow emissions of benzene and formaldehyde to increase.
In May 2001, Earthjustice sued the EPA on behalf of Sierra Club, United States Public Interest Research Group, and Natural Resources Defense Council in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The groups want the EPA to promulgate new rules to slash emissions of air toxics from motor vehicles.
"It is crucial to public health that EPA set effective standards to reduce these toxic pollutants," said James Pew, an attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the environmental groups in court. "But EPA's regulations do nothing. In fact, they allow emissions of the worst pollutants to increase."
EPA estimates that motor vehicles, construction equipment, lawn and garden equipment, and other mobile sources emitted 1.6 million tons of toxins in 1996. According to an EPA study, more than 250 million people nationally are subject to an unacceptable cancer risk due to mobile source toxic pollutants.
"Congress knew that the toxics from cars, trucks and buses are a serious public health threat, and it enacted law to protect Americans from that threat," said Pew. "For EPA to ignore that law, as it did here, is the height of irresponsibility.
"By failing to do even the minimum that Congress required, EPA is playing roulette with millions of Americans' health," Pew added.