Today, community groups Committee for a Better Arvin and Committee for a Better Shafter along with Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, represented by Earthjustice, along with the National Parks Conservation Association filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its failure to enforce deadlines for the submission of clean-air plans in California’s San Joaquin Valley. The lawsuit maintains that the EPA ignored its duty under the Clean Air Act to issue a finding that both the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (Air District) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) failed to submit four overdue plans to meet particle pollution standards, including standards set over 20 years ago.
Four of the nation’s six dirtiest cities for both long-term and short-term particle pollution are found within California’s San Joaquin Valley, according to a recent report by the American Lung Association (ALA). Fine particle pollution (PM2.5) can penetrate deep into the lungs, enter the bloodstream and is correlated with higher incidences of asthma, heart disease, heart attack and premature death. For 30 years, the Valley Air District has failed to meet deadlines set by the federal Clean Air Act. “Each year, our communities in the Central Valley are on the American Lung Association’s list for the worst air quality in the country. How much longer are we supposed to wait for better air? How many more children need to get sick from air pollution before real changes are made?” asks Anabel Marquez, a member of the Committee for a Better Shafter.
The Valley remains the only region in the nation listed as in serious nonattainment for fine particle pollution standards set it 1997. Colin O’Brien, staff attorney at Earthjustice said: “Other parts of the country have made significant progress to improve their air quality and make their communities healthy places to live. By contrast, the Valley Air District and state officials have acted too slowly and done too little to address severe and dangerous air quality and EPA has been complicit in their foot-dragging. This lawsuit against EPA seeks to enforce a Clean Air Act deadline provision that operates as a backstop against perpetual delay.”
The negative impacts of poor air quality in the San Joaquin Valley reverberate through all aspects of life for its residents. Estela Escoto, president of Committee for a Better Arvin is tired of seeing marginalized communities bear the brunt of the impact of air pollution. “Big corporations and industries have been polluting the air in the Central Valley for decades. They make profits, but we’ve been forced to pay the price of bad air quality not only with our medical bills, but with our overall well-being. Our families deserve better,” said Escoto. Leading economists estimate that failing to meet the air quality standards costs the Valley $1,000 per resident, annually, resulting in a total loss of about $3 billion every year.
This effort by the community, health, and parks groups seeks to secure an enforceable deadline for the adoption of a plan to reduce harmful particulate matter so clean air becomes a reality in the San Joaquin Valley. The groups are committed to continuing to work collaboratively with the local air district, state and EPA officials, community residents and Valley businesses to find a way forward. We believe clean air is not only possible, but the economy and the people of the Valley will thrive because of it
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.