Environmental and community groups today filed a 60-day "notice of intent" to sue the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, and the California Department of Transportation for illegally approving a $15 billion, long-range transportation plan that will exacerbate violations of federal standards for smog. The notification was sent by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund on behalf of the Environmental Council of Sacramento, Sierra Club and the 'No Way L.A.' Coalition to enforce a key provision of the Clean Air Act that limits car and truck emissions generated by transportation projects.
"We intend to sue because the plan relies on phantom emission reductions," said attorney Joe Brecher of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund who is representing the organizations. "Everyone admits the smog check program isn't living up to expectations. To protect public health, the Clean Air Act says that Sacramento can't count on imaginary reductions toward meeting federal air quality standards. Reductions must be quantifiable, enforceable, real and permanent."
The suit claims the state cannot deliver the mobile source emission reductions required by federal law. Groups say the transportation plan will actually make air quality worse by increasing car trips and vehicle miles traveled. The groups have identified 58 projects in the plan will contribute to Sacramento's smog problem, drain vitality out of existing neighborhoods, encourage sprawl, and increase congestion in the long run.
"Frankly, we're going to court to protect the livability of the region," said Earl Withycombe of the Environmental Council of Sacramento. "For over a decade we have been promised a transportation plan that makes the hard choices necessary to achieve clean-air. But the new plan is still 70% roads. Decision-makers expected technological fixes to work miracles so they wouldn't have to address the real problem - too many cars, driving too many miles."
As a solution to problems of smog, congestion, and sprawl, the groups propose shifting funding from some new roads and freeway widenings to transit, pedestrian, and bicycle projects. The groups also want planners to prioritize funding for transportation investments that support smart growth and transit-friendly housing.
Activists are also concerned established business districts like the Downtown Plaza in Sacramento, Lincoln Way in Auburn, Main Street in Placerville or Downtown Davis are all threatened. Even newer shopping centers like Arden Fair will lose business when eight-lane roads are built to WalMarts on the urban fringe.
"Sacramentans shouldn't have to hold their breath waiting for the clean air that comes when planners decide they have time to tackle the problem seriously," said Brecher.