Federal Court Blasts EPA's Continued Refusal To Comply With Clean Air Act


Court vacates weak approach to limit toxic pollution from brick and tile makers


James Pew, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500
Marti Sinclair, Sierra Club, (513) 761-6140, ext. 28

Today, a federal court threw out the Environmental Protection Agency’s weak Clean Air Act standards for more than 500 plants that manufacture brick and clay structural products and ceramics. The court found that EPA’s standards directly violated the law and previous decisions. This latest decision reflects a broader problem at EPA, an agency that under the Bush administration has persistently ignored the law, the courts, and public health by adopting standards that do not adequately limit toxic air pollution. 

“This decision is not just about brick kilns,” said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. “It is about an agency that thinks it is above the law, and chooses to ignore Congress, the courts, and the citizens who have called upon EPA to protect against this pollution. Hopefully, this decision will remind EPA that it exists to protect public health and the environment by implementing our environmental laws, not subverting them.”

This lawsuit was brought by Sierra Club, represented in court by Earthjustice. At issue were the highly protective requirements in the Clean Air Act’s toxic provisions, which require EPA to set standards for entire industries that reflect the emission levels achieved by the cleanest plants that are currently in operation. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found in today’s decision that EPA has repeatedly violated this requirement in standards it has set for a wide variety of industries, including cement plants and garbage incinerators. Read the court’s decision (PDF). 

“We applaud the court’s decision, and it’s a good thing we have courts to review what this rogue agency is doing,” said Marti Sinclair, Sierra Club’s air chair. “Instead of fulfilling its mission to protect public health and the environment, EPA is doing its best to deny Americans the protection that Congress provided.”

Brick kilns and ceramics kilns emit more that 6,000 tons of toxic chemicals into the air each year, including hydrofluoric acid, hydrochloric acid, and particulate matter containing toxic metals such as arsenic, chromium and lead, which can lead to cancer, respiratory damage and neurological and organ damage. For many kilns, EPA refused to require any limit on toxic emissions at all. For others EPA set standards that — in direct violation of the Clean Air Act — did not even purport to reflect the emission levels achieved by the cleanest plants in the industry.

“People live next to these plants,” said Sinclair. “Because EPA once again refused to obey the Clean Air Act, they’re being exposed to far more toxic pollution than the Clean Air Act allows.”

“By refusing to obey the Clean Air Act, EPA deprives the American public of protection from toxic substances,” said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. “Congress was concerned about the risk from these toxics, and amended the Clean Air Act specifically to address that risk. As the Court reminded EPA today, ‘it must obey the Clean Air Act.'” 

See a list of brick kiln locations (PDF)

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