San Francisco, CA
A lawsuit was filed in US District Court late Monday, January 9 to force the Environmental Protection Agency to approve enforceable “contingency measures,” which could help to finally clean up particulate matter air pollution in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
Contingency measures are required under the federal Clean Air Act as a backstop to protect public health should the Valley fail to meet major milestones in cleaning up this type of pollution. The EPA has yet to approve a set of contingency measures for the Valley and the plan is long overdue.
“Without these backup measures in place there is no way to ensure that the Valley’s air will get cleaned up,” said Paul Cort an attorney for Earthjustice. “The EPA has refused to finish the control plan required by the Clean Air Act because it has been unwilling to force the Air District to do its job. Now clean air advocates are forced to seek a court order to get it done.”
The Clean Air Act requires contingency measures that kick in automatically if the region cannot meet the national standards or is not making significant progress toward attainment. These measures are a required element of all state implementation plans under the Clean Air Act. The contingency measures included in the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s 2003 PM-10 Plan consisted solely of promises to consider future rulemaking, not actual control measures, as required by law.
Particulate Matter: A Known Killer
Particulate matter pollution is made up of tiny airborne particles, which can include dust, soot, and smoke. The San Joaquin Valley is one of the most polluted regions in the country. Particulate matter pollution impairs lung function, aggravates asthma, causes heart attacks, and can lead to premature death. Public health officials estimate particulate matter pollution kills more than 1,200 Valley residents each year according to a California Air Resources Board report (2002).
“When the air district promised to reduce particulate matter, they were also required to come up with a plan if those reductions were not met,” said Kevin Hamilton of the Fresno-based Medical Advocates for Healthy Air. “The EPA is required by law to approve a solid Plan-B that will get the job done, but this has not happened, and we continue to see the results in the region’s emergency rooms when people come in gasping for air.”
Earthjustice represents Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, Latino Issues Forum, and the Sierra Club in the suit.