Startup, Shutdown, and Malfunction (SSM) Reconsideration

Case Overview

Toxic air pollution from refineries, chemical plants, incinerators and other large industrial plants can increase to as much as ten times allowable levels during startup, shutdown, and malfunction events. Nonetheless, EPA’s regulations exempted plants from toxic emission limits during these periods. Moreover, though EPA requires plant operators to prepare a plan for minimizing emissions during these highly polluting periods, EPA did not require plants to comply with their plan and allowed the plan to be kept secret from the public.

In December of 2008, as a result of this lawsuit, this loophole was closed by a federal court. Industry groups appealed the decision, and in March 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case, effectively ending litigation.

Case Updates

Flaring at a refinery located next to homes in Wilmington, CA.
March 4, 2024 Press Release: Victory

Federal Court Confirms EPA’s Authority to End Loopholes Companies Use to Pollute Air with Impunity

The exemptions prevent communities from holding air polluters accountable for toxic emissions

January 26, 2024 In the News: Texas Tribune

Texas companies reported releasing 1 million pounds of excess pollution during recent cold snap

Seth Johnson, Attorney, Washington, D.C., Office: “The Clean Air Act says you need to meet emission limits at all times. There are free passes — loopholes — now. Many are being closed, and the rest that remain open need to be closed. That’s necessary in order to urge companies to take sensible precautions to avoid being in these circumstances.”

A child wearing a Spiderman mask and t-shirt marches alongside community members, while defiantly holding up a handmade poster that reads, "My spidey senses are foggy!!! Clean air now" during the "March For Clean Air! Stop Dumping in Newark" in Nov. 2021. The rally called on state officials to act against a proposed sludge facility and the extension of a gas plant in the chemical corridor area of Newark.
October 19, 2023 Press Release

Environmental Advocates Move to Defend EPA Rule Removing Polluter Loopholes

Companies use affirmative defense to avoid the consequences of releasing unlimited amounts of toxic emissions during emergencies