As EPA Nominee Faces Hearing, Environmental Groups Point the Way to Clean Air Reforms

Petition EPA to scrap dozens of Bush-era pollution loopholes, file suit to end years of delay


Jim Pew/Emma Cheuse, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prepares for an era under new leadership, environmental groups are taking legal action aimed at improving much-needed air pollution controls for almost 50 industries.

Attorneys at Earthjustice and NRDC are filing a rulemaking petition and a lawsuit today targeting weak and overdue air regulations for a total of 48 industries — from chemical plants to refineries, paper mills to metal smelters.

The petition, filed jointly by Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, and Natural Resources Defense Council, seeks to require unlawfully weak toxic air pollution rules for dozens of industries to conform to protections demanded by the Clean Air Act. The lawsuit, filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Sierra Club, seeks to end years of delay by the outgoing administration in updating air pollution rules for more than two dozen additional industries.

Today’s actions follow a steady stream of court findings that Bush-era environmental rules and policies have blatantly violated federal law.

“The Obama administration will have the opportunity to protect Americans against toxic air pollution that causes cancer and other harms, after the courts repeatedly found Bush administration rules broke the law,” said John Walke, Clean Air Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The public stands to benefit from stronger cleanup measures that will reduce carcinogens, smog and soot pollution that plague our communities.”

The actions coincide with Senate confirmation hearings for Lisa Jackson, President-elect Barack Obama’s pick to head the EPA. As the outgoing administration has failed to take required steps to protect the public, the groups expressed hope that the incoming administration would carry out its Clean Air Act responsibilities to protect the American people against toxic air pollution.

“The rules we’re asking EPA to fix cover many of this country’s worst toxic polluters,” said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew who is filing today’s petition. “It’s time for a fresh approach — one that is built around protecting public health instead of polluters’ entitlement to continue business as usual.”

The industries affected by the challenged regulations emit hazardous air pollutants, including some compounds that are associated with cancer, birth defects, anemia, lung and respiratory harm, damage to the nervous system, liver, kidneys, brain, skin and eyes, as well as other health disorders.

“USA Today’s recent investigative report ‘The Smokestack Effect’ revealed that air outside more than 400 schools nationwide appears to be more toxic than the air at Meredith Hitchens Elementary, a school here in Cincinnati that was recently closed due to air toxics. Parents across the nation are concerned and rightly so,” said Marti Sinclair, Chair of Sierra Club’s National Air Committee.

The industries outlined in the petition and lawsuit have unlawfully weak, outdated or even nonexistent control requirements. In many instances EPA allowed industrial facilities to emit as much as they like by setting what the agency incredibly called “no control” emission standards for hazardous air pollutants. In other instances, EPA broke the law by setting standards tailored to accommodate the worst polluters rather than meeting the performance of the best and cleanest operations. The environmental groups are asking EPA to bring the pollution control requirements for these industries up to date and into compliance with the Clean Air Act.

“After the Bush administration, some serious housecleaning is in order,” said attorney Emma Cheuse at Earthjustice, which filed today’s lawsuit. “We’ve identified eight years’ worth of bad air rules that need to be corrected and dozens of polluting industries that are long overdue for lawful regulation. The first step is for EPA to write rules that have been due for years so we can stop playing catch-up on toxic pollution and make the air in our local communities healthier to breathe.”

The law requires that EPA set industry air pollution standards that reflect the emission levels currently being achieved by the least-polluting facilities in a given industry. Instead of following the law, in many instances EPA lowered the bar, tailoring weaker thresholds to the dirtiest factories. In addition, the law requires EPA to ensure that the standards use newly available technology and provide enough protection for human health and the environment.

Read the petitio (PDF)

Read the lawsuit (PDF) 

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