The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a ruling today in an important case involving hazardous air pollutants emitted by factories that manufacture polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The court’s decision in Mossville Environmental Action Now v. Environmental Protection Agency agreed with one of the key arguments made by the environmental petitioners: that EPA’s rule setting standards for these production facilities did not adequately control all of the toxic air pollutants those facilities release into the air, as required by the Clean Air Act.
The Court determined that EPA failed to explain or justify its decision to allow emissions of all hazardous air pollutants but one — -vinyl chloride — -to go unregulated. EPA argued that vinyl chloride was a “surrogate” for other pollutants, and that if those emissions were reduced other pollutants would be reduced to meet Clean Air Act standards as well. The Court rejected this argument and sent EPA back to the drawing board, stating “In short, we do not find EPA’s explanation persuasive, and hold its determination that vinyl chloride is a surrogate for all other [hazardous air pollutants] emitted from PVC production facilities is arbitrary and capricious and not supported by the record.”
“Instead of requiring control of dangerous air pollutants, EPA has blithely assumed the problem away,” said Howard Fox, managing attorney for Earthjustice, a non-profit law firm that represented Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN) and the Sierra Club in the case. “The Court has blown the whistle on EPA’s uncorroborated ‘surrogate’ scheme, pointing out what’s obvious from the agency’s own decision: there’s no ‘there’ there.”
PVC producers release large quantities of vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen, in addition to other hazardous air pollutants that threaten the environment and public health in and around communities where these plants are located. Among these pollutants are vinylidene chloride, methanol, chlorine, hydrogen chloride, and ethylene dichloride. Exposure to these and other hazardous pollutants — -emissions of which were not addressed by EPA in its final rule — -is associated with serious adverse health effects. For example, exposure to vinylidene chloride may cause cancer as well as damage to the lungs, liver, kidneys and central nervous system.