Many American communities now living with heavy industry and toxic air pollution may finally get the chance for real protection from unnecessary health risks and environmental damage. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has now agreed to review and make all necessary updates to hazardous air pollution rules covering 28 types of industrial facilities, including pesticide production operations, lead smelters, aerospace facilities and pharmaceutical plants, among others. The proposed consent decree lodged today in federal court is the result of a Jan. 2009 lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Sierra Club, which sought to end years of delay by the Bush administration in updating air pollution rules for industries that pollute neighborhoods with toxic emissions.
In some instances, communities are being subjected to uncontrolled industrial emissions set loose by Bush-era EPA rules dubbed "no control" emission standards for hazardous air pollutants.
"For too many years, Americans have waited for the EPA to update and strengthen these standards. Now EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is committing to act on a long list of air toxics standards to protect people from serious health problems caused by air pollution," said Jane Williams, Chair of the Sierra Club National Air Toxics Taskforce. "We applaud her decision to take action so that people exposed every day to toxic industrial pollution will finally have the chance to receive the basic health protections promised by the Clean Air Act."
The industries affected by this settlement emit hazardous air pollutants which are associated with cancer, birth defects, anemia, lung and respiratory harm, damage to the nervous system, and other health disorders as well as environmental damage like contamination of the natural food chain.
There will be a public comment period and final agency review for the proposed agreement before the EPA and Sierra Club submit the final agreement to the Court for approval later this year. The EPA will be scheduled to take the first action under the agreement by mid-September 2010, and additional rulemakings on toxic air pollution standards for various industries will follow regularly over the next few years.
"Under Administrator Jackson's leadership, we hope and expect that the EPA's new action on air toxics should reap rewards for years to come in local communities now under assault by toxic air pollution," said attorney Emma Cheuse of Earthjustice. "Strong Clean Air Act standards will reduce cancer risks and prevent other environmental health problems. No one should ever have to face health risks just because they live, work, or go to school near a polluting facility."
The EPA is required by the Clean Air Act to set industry air pollution standards that are up-to-date. The EPA must ensure that the standards reflect newly available technology and provide ample protection for human health and the environment. The EPA missed the mandatory 8-year review deadline to evaluate the "residual risk," that is, the remaining risk to public health and to the environment that is not addressed by emission standards on the books created years ago. As a result, numerous standards may be too weak or too technologically outdated to provide the public protections that are legally required under the Clean Air Act.
Details of the proposed decree:
The U.S. EPA will review and, as necessary, revise the national emission standards for hazardous air pollution to control toxic air emissions for 28 industrial sources, hold a public rulemaking and issue a final determination as required by law.
The agency also will hold a rulemaking to set "residual risk" safety standards if required to protect public health and the environment.
The U.S. EPA will begin taking action this September and will complete all rulemakings in the next few years.
For each of the 28 industrial categories covered by the agreement, the public will have the ability to review the EPA's proposed rule or determination and offer comments to ensure that the agency hears fully from local communities.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will soon publish a notice in the Federal Register and accept public comments regarding the proposed consent decree.
Update: Final version of the consent decree entered by the court in 2011: http://earthjustice.org/documents/legal-document/pdf/secondary-lead-smelter-consent-decree