The ruling will impact about 90 garbage incinerators known as small municipal waste combustors (MWC). These facilities have the capacity to burn between 35 and 250 tons of refuse each day; collectively, these facilities emit significant levels of dangerous air toxins, such as mercury, lead, dioxins and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that EPA had failed to set the protective air pollution standards required by the Clean Air Act and as a result, ordered the agency to redo its regulations.
"This is a huge victory for the health of our communities," said Jim Pew, Earthjustice attorney representing the Sierra Club and New York Public Interest Research Group, Inc. (NYPIRG) in the case. "Exposure to these emissions can lead to an increased risk of birth defects, cancer, developmental delays and learning disorders."
Under the federal Clean Air Act, EPA was required to set emission standards for small MWC that, at a minimum, matched the performance of the cleanest units now in operation. But in December 2000, EPA issued standards that flunked that test. Rather than requiring all MWC to match the performance of the best units, they gave a federal blessing to the continued operation of the dirtiest units.
"The EPA is now required to raise the bar for all municipal waste combustors," said Nat Mund, a Washington Clean Air Representative with the Sierra Club. "Today's decision will decrease the amount of air pollution released into our communities, and help protect our children and families from dangerous air toxins."
"These incinerators fill our lungs with toxic chemicals, make it tougher for kids with asthma to breathe, and poison the food we eat," said Laura Haight, NYPIRG Senior Environmental Associate. "Today's decision will greatly reduce the risks that communities face from toxic air pollution."
The suit was decided in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. [Waste Energy Partners Limited Partnership, et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al., D.C. Cir. No. 01-1053 and consolidated cases]
Federal Appeals Court opinion
Jim Pew, Earthjustice, 202-667-4500 x 214
Brian O'Malley, Sierra Club, 202-675-6279
Laura Haight, NYPIRG, 518.436.0876x25