This afternoon, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dealt a major setback to a long-running campaign by industry lawyers and political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency to gut the Clean Air Act’s toxics provisions. On behalf of plywood factory owners, EPA had crafted a wholesale exemption that would have allowed approximately two thirds of all plants to avoid controlling emissions of formaldehyde and other toxic pollution.
Natural Resources Defense Council, representing Environmental Integrity Project, and Earthjustice, representing Sierra Club challenged EPA’s rule as unlawful. Today the court agreed, and vacated the exemption and other unlawful loopholes. The decision makes clear that plywood plants must start cleaning up their pollution this fall.
Natural Resources Defense Council represented itself and the Environmental Integrity Project in litigation challenging this rule, and Earthjustice represented Sierra Club. The decision today by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit halted attempts by the EPA and lawyers for major polluting industries to circumvent the strongest protections against some of the most harmful toxic air pollution under the Clean Air Act.
Plywood plants as a whole emit more than 18,000 tons of toxic air pollution each year, including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, phenol and other pollutants that can cause cancer, liver and kidney damage, birth defects and adverse reproductive effects.
“Like an exterminator killing termites, the court blocked EPA’s destructive attempt to carve out holes in the Clean Air Act’s protections against toxic pollution from plywood factories,” said John Walke, Clean Air Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “When the EPA sides with polluters over the public, Americans should be grateful that we have the courts to protect us against government wrongdoing and harmful pollution.”
Plywood plants are located across the country, including in Oregon, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas. Today’s decision not only admonished EPA for its failed attempt to follow the law, but also put strict compliance deadlines for these facilities to adopt pollution standards.
“EPA is charged with the implementation of the Clean Air Act,” said Marti Sinclair, chair of the Sierra Club’s Air Committee. “Instead, EPA has taken it prisoner and tortured the heck out of it. The federal courts have once again had to intervene to stop EPA’s abuse of the law and to protect the American people from the toxic fallout.”
When EPA had adopted this rule in 2004, it essentially ignored the existing science identifying these plywood plants as huge sources of toxic air pollution. EPA’s rule had included loopholes for allegedly “low risk” sources, allowing approximately 143 of the more than 200 plywood plants to avoid taking any steps to limit their toxic air pollution, an idea floated by lawyers and lobbyists for the wood products industry that would have saved it hundreds of millions of dollars through avoided pollution control costs.
“One of the EPA’s worst rules has finally been defeated,” said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project. “The court was very clear that the EPA can no longer rush out rules that meet industry demands, avoid Clean Air Act requirements and poison our communities and environment.”
“The decision is great news for communities affected by plywood plants’ toxic pollution,” said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. “They can start breathing easier this fall. On a broader level, we hope this decision will bring EPA to its senses. The court has given EPA a chance to return to its mission and start protecting public health again.”