The United States Supreme Court today let stand a federal appeals court ruling in favor of stronger clean air protections for Imperial County, California. This decision will uphold badly needed air pollution protections under the Clean Air Act for citizens currently suffering from unhealthful levels of smog and soot.
“This is great news for public health,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “We hope the state and the county will now move on with the job of adopting the stronger anti-pollution measures required by the law.
In 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency allowed Imperial County to avoid stronger Clean Air Act requirements due to county arguments that the region’s violations were caused by cross-border pollution from Mexico. In a suit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, a federal appeals court ruled last fall that EPA’s waiver violated the Clean Air Act because the facts did not show that all violations on U.S. territory were due to Mexican pollution. As a result of today’s decision, EPA will have to reclassify the air pollution status of the Imperial Valley to trigger stronger air pollution requirements for particulate pollution.
The Imperial Valley has exceeded federal health standards for airborne particulates hundreds of times over the past ten years, according to EPA estimates, with pollution levels sometimes reaching more than double the allowed amount. Scientific studies link airborne particulates to tens of thousands of premature deaths and lung problems across the nation. The Imperial Valley region has one of the highest childhood asthma rates in the state, and its death rate from respiratory diseases has at times been more than double that of California as a whole, according to the state’s Department of Health Services.
“EPA has allowed Imperial Valley residents to breathe unhealthy, polluted air far to long,” said Sierra Club activist Edie Harmon. “We hope the Supreme Court’s action will help protect the health of our families and communities.”