Court Signs Order, Guarantees Overdue Safeguards Against Toxic Air Releases

Decree ends legal dispute seeking EPA compliance with federal law


James Pew, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500

Marti Sinclair, Sierra Club (513) 674-1983, x28

A federal court Oct. 3 signed a consent decree that sets deadlines for the Environmental Protection Agency to draft and approve emission standards for chemical plants and other major sources of hazardous air pollution. This move ends litigation that conservation groups brought against EPA for failing to comply with federal law and begins the process of cleaning the air for millions of Americans.

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia signed the agreement between EPA and the Sierra Club, represented in the lawsuit by Earthjustice, and Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), represented by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.

“We’re happy to get this important process started,” said Marti Sinclair, Chairwoman of Sierra Club’s National Air Committee. “The Court’s order will require EPA to look back over its emission standards for some of the worst polluters in the country and then decide whether these standards are good enough.”

The lawsuit stemmed from the Clean Air Act’s requirement that EPA review its air toxics standards eight years after issuing them. In the review process, EPA must assure that its standards are adequate to protect public health and the environment and also that they reflect the greatest degree of emission reductions that can be achieved.

This consent decree covers EPA’s standard for chemical plants, which continue to emit approximately 60,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants each year. It also covers industrial cooling towers, gasoline distribution facilities, commercial sterilizers, magnetic tape production facilities, and halogenated solvent cleaners. Chemical plants alone emit at least 112 of the 188 pollutants that the Clean Air Act lists as “hazardous.” The other industrial categories covered by the decree emit a wide range of toxic substances, including such known and probable human carcinogens as benzene, perchloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), carbon tetrachloride, methylene chloride, and ethylene oxide.

“When Congress enacted the Clean Air Act, it knew that hazardous air pollutants are one of the biggest threats to public health and the environment in this country,” said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew. “Congress didn’t want EPA to just issue some regulations and then forget about them. It wanted the agency to make sure that our air is safe to breath. This consent decree puts EPA back on track to doing what Congress wanted and what we all need the agency to do.”

Read the consent decree setting timelines for EPA air toxic rules.

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