Sacramento community and environmental groups filed suit in Federal Court today against the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, and the California Department of Transportation for illegally approving a long-term transportation plan that will increase violations of federal standards for smog. Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund filed the suit on behalf of the Environmental Council of Sacramento, Sierra Club, and the ‘No Way LA’ Coalition to enforce key provisions of the Clean Air Act that limit auto and truck emissions generated by new road and highway construction.
Since filing a 60-day notice in September of 1999, the organizations have consulted with the agencies seeking compromise settlement. Because agencies refused to halt funding or work on projects while negotiations were underway, the lawsuit was initiated. “We refuse to sacrifice clean air and public health on the altar of road construction,” said Earl Withycombe of the Environmental Council of Sacramento. “Read our lips: no more pavement until the guarantees of clean air are set in concrete.”
“We are suing because the plan relies on imaginary emission reductions,” said attorney Joe Brecher of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. “Sacramento can’t count phantom reductions toward meeting federal air quality standards. Reductions must be quantifiable, enforceable, real, and permanent.”
The groups want planners to prioritize funding for transportation investments that support smart growth and transit-friendly housing. They would like to see some funds shifted from wider roads and freeway projects to transit, pedestrian, bicycle, and other projects aimed at providing people with choices and cleaning up the region’s air.
“Sacramentans want a transportation system that accommodates the need of all its citizens, including those who don’t drive¾ like children, the elderly, and physically impaired. Just walking across streets will be more difficult as four-lane traffic jams become eight-lane traffic jams,” said Vicki Lee, president of the Mother Lode Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The plan will create more pollution and more congestion, it’s wrongheaded and against the law.”
The suit claims the state cannot deliver the mobile source emissions reductions required by federal law. The groups say the transportation plan will actually make air quality worse by increasing car trips and vehicle miles traveled. The groups identified 58 projects in the plan that will contribute to Sacramento’s smog problem, drain vitality out of existing neighborhoods, increase urban blight, encourage sprawl, and increase congestion in the long run.