Groups Sue EPA over Neglect of San Joaquin Valley Particulate Air Pollution

Control measures to reduce particulates a decade overdue


Susan Britton, Earthjustice 510-550-6725, 415-412-4168 (cell)


Raquel Donoso, Latino Issues Forum, 510-282-0133


Kevin Hall, Sierra Club, 559-227-6421


Dr. David Pepper, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, 559-459-5705

As particulate matter air pollution season approaches in the San Joaquin Valley, community, environmental, and medical groups held a press conference at Fresno City Hall today announcing the filing of a lawsuit in federal court today against the federal Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to take actions addressing the Valley’s air quality problems nearly a decade ago. EPA was required by December 17, 1993 to impose sanctions on the Valley and develop a federally enforceable plan to regulate particulate matter (“PM” or “soot”) pollution. Today, the region still has no federally approved plan to regulate this deadly pollutant.

Because local officials in the Valley had not fulfilled their duties in regulating the pollutant, the Clean Air Act required EPA impose highway and stationary source offset sanctions, as well as to impose a “Federal Implementation Plan” by 1993, but EPA never fulfilled these duties. More than eight years later, EPA has still not imposed a plan or sanctions – actions that would have had significant impacts on pollution levels in the Valley.

“EPA has failed to act until it is absolutely forced to,” said Susan Britton, attorney for Earthjustice, who represents the groups. “Particulate matter is a form of air pollution that cannot be swept under the rug forever, because it’s a killer.”

PM – A Public Health Threat

Medical studies have shown that particulate matter is the most deadly form of air pollution. Not only does it exacerbate asthma attacks and respiratory disease, its particles are small enough to enter the bloodstream, causing heart attacks and accelerating death from all causes. According to a recent report published by the Environmental Working Group, there are over 70,000 asthma attacks each year due to PM pollution, and over 560,000 days of work lost due to the effects of this pollutant.

The major sources of PM pollution in the Valley are unpaved roads, farming operations, paved road dust, windblown dust, waste burning and disposal, construction and demolition, industrial processes, fuel combustion, and mobile sources (cars, trucks, and buses). Emissions of PM in the Valley have increased steadily since 1975 to among the worst in the nation and are predicted to continue increasing through 2010.

EPA’s obligation to take action to control this pollutant emerged from a finding in 1991 that the local Air District had failed to submit for federal approval a plan to regulate PM emissions. When such a finding is made, the Clean Air Act mandates that if a plan is not approved by EPA within 18 months, stationary source offset sanctions must be imposed. After 24 months, if no plan is approved, highway sanctions must be imposed, and federal EPA regulators must step in and take over the locals’ duty to write the plan.

“Moderate” controls overdue, “Serious” controls promised

In 1990, the San Joaquin Valley was classified as a “moderate” area for PM-10 pollution. Two years later, the severity of the region’s pollution led EPA to redesignate the Valley to “serious,” the worst classification available under the Clean Air Act, which carries more stringent requirements for pollution control than the “moderate” scheme. However, the Valley has never developed even the “moderate” level of controls.

EPA now claims that developing the “Reasonably Available Control” plan for PM would divert resources from the development of the “Best Available Control” plan. However, the “serious” plan is not expected to be approved by EPA until late 2003 at the earliest, and considering the 10-year track record of delay and inaction on this issue, community groups aren’t banking on it.

“That’s like saying that your commuting teenager doesn’t need a driver’s licence because he’s studying for his truck driver’s license test next year,” noted Kevin Hall, Fresno resident and member of the Sierra Club. “Before the more stringent controls are delayed again, we at least need the basic level of protection.”

Dr. David Pepper, of the Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, remarked, “It is hard to believe that EPA has ignored the particulate matter problem in the Valley for so long. More and more kids are getting asthma, and more older folks and people with respiratory problems are dying while the EPA delays.”

“We are very disappointed that the federal government has not stepped in sooner,” said Raquel Donoso of the Latino Issues Forum. “Community groups have more important work to do than suing to enforce the Clean Air Act. Protecting our community from preventable illnesses caused by air pollution must be the EPA’s top priority. We are here to ensure that they do the job

they are supposed to be doing.”

The Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, the Latino Issues Forum, and the Sierra Club filed the lawsuit in the Northern District of California.

More background on air issues in the San Joaquin Valley can be found at


EPA “failure to submit” letter (1991)

A History of Missed Deadlines

Particulate Matter Emission Trends San Joaquin Valley v. Los Angeles Basin

Top Particulate Matter Sources in the San Joaquin Valley

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

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.