Environmental Groups File Suit Over Vehicle Air Pollution

EPA charged with failure to reduce cancer-causing emissions


Cat Lazaroff, Earthjustice, 202-667-4500 x 213


Jim Pew, Earthjustice, 202-667-4500 x 214


Emily Figdor, U.S. PIRG, 202-546-9707


Nat Mund, Sierra Club, 202-675-2397

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, filed suit today against the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to meet a 2003 deadline to propose regulations that would reduce emissions of toxic chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde from the nation’s cars, trucks, and buses.

EPA’s own National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment shows that motor vehicle emissions are the largest source of hazardous air pollutants nationwide, and that these pollutants substantially increase the risks of cancer and other serious adverse health effects for millions of Americans. Toxic emissions from motor vehicles have been linked to a wide range of health problems, including birth defects, neurological damage, and respiratory effects.

“The Bush administration’s policies are allowing health-threatening toxic chemicals into our air and putting our families and communities at risk,” said Nat Mund, Washington Representative for the Sierra Club. “There is a better way. The Bush administration should implement the law, hold polluters accountable and require them to use today’s technology to protect our health and safety.”

According to EPA data, motor vehicles emit 169,000 tons of benzene, 83,400 tons of formaldehyde, 23,600 tons of 1,3-butadiene, and 28,800 tons of acetaldehyde each year, accounting for between 25 and 50% of the total emissions of each pollutant. Motor vehicles also produce more than one million tons of other hazardous air pollutants. Benzene and 1,3-butadiene are known to cause cancer, while acetaldehyde and formaldehyde are “probable” human carcinogens.

“The Bush administration’s delay jeopardizes the health of millions of Americans exposed to high levels of cancer-causing chemicals emitted by cars and trucks,” stated U.S. PIRG Clean Air Advocate Emily Figdor.

Major reductions in vehicle-produced air toxics could be simply achieved through a wider application of existing technology. For example, cities that are required to use cleaner-burning gasoline during the summer smog season already benefit from limits on benzene in gasoline. These limits, which date from 1995 and apply to more than 30 percent of all the gasoline sold in America, have reduced the amount of benzene in gasoline by more than 50 percent. Just by requiring all gasoline to meet that same standard — a standard that is already in place in 17 states and the District of Columbia — EPA could significantly reduce cancer and other health risks for tens of millions of Americans.

EPA also could take steps to reduce the level of other toxic pollutants in gasoline, require the use of better emission controls on cars, implement an effective national inspection and maintenance program to ensure that new cars continue to meet emission standards as they age, create incentives to increase the number of hybrid cars, fuel-cell vehicles, and other alternatives to polluting fossil fuels on the roads, and expand the use of modern emission controls on small gasoline engines.

In a 2001 rulemaking, EPA asserted that it lacked the information necessary to require reductions in mobile source air toxics. The agency committed to implement a “Technical Analysis Plan” to obtain the missing information and then to issue a proposed rule to reduce emissions of hazardous air pollutants from motor vehicles by July 1, 2003, taking final action by July 1, 2004. More than six months after this latest missed deadline, EPA has yet to issue its promised rulemaking proposal.

“EPA has engaged in an old-fashioned fraud,” said Jim Pew, attorney for Earthjustice, who is representing the environmental groups in the case. “To avoid its legal duties in the past, the agency repeatedly promised the public and the courts that it was gathering information and would set new and better standards in the 2003-2004 time frame. But there is no evidence that EPA had any real intent of making good on that promise. The new standards are nowhere in sight, and there’s no evidence that EPA is gathering the information the agency claimed to need.”

“EPA should start acting more like the government agency entrusted to protect public health and less like the board of directors for Enron,” Pew said.


U.S. PIRG is the national advocacy office for the state Public Interest Research Groups. State PIRGs are non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organizations.

The Sierra Club’s members are 700,000 of your friends and neighbors. Inspired by nature, we work together to protect our communities and the planet. The Club is America’s oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization.

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