Clean Air Advocates Urge U.S. EPA to Protect All Communities from Toxic Emissions

Rules proposed in April are strong but loopholes could leave many communities exposed


Jim Pew, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 214
Jane Williams, Sierra Club Air Toxics Taskforce, (661) 510-3412
Virginia Cramer, Sierra Club, (804) 225-9113, ext. 102
John Walke, Natural Resources Defense Council, (202) 289-2406
Eric Schaeffer, Environmental Integrity Project, (202) 296-8800

Clean air and environmental justice advocates are participating in public hearings in Los Angeles and Houston tomorrow to support cleaning up toxic air emissions from industrial incinerators, boilers and process heaters. This is one of the most significant rules the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed. It will affect thousands of pollution sources and people in thousands of communities.

When they are finalized, EPA’s proposed rules will reduce emissions of hazardous air pollutants and the risk of serious health effects like cancer, reproductive disorders, and birth defects in communities across the country. However, the rules also contain a dangerous loophole that would allow many industrial facilities to avoid controlling, monitoring, or reporting their toxic emissions and would prevent citizens from learning either the identity or quantity of the toxic chemicals to which they are exposed.

“All communities across the country deserve protections against toxic pollution,” said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. “EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has shown great leadership in restoring EPA as a protector of public health and the environment. We’re calling on her to resist pressure from the polluter lobby and give all Americans the protection from toxic pollution that our environmental laws were enacted to guarantee.”

The rules will require significant pollution reductions at an estimated 14,000 boilers at 1,600 facilities, and are expected to prevent between 2,000 and 5,000 premature deaths every year, 1,300 chronic bronchitis cases, 3,200 hospital emergency room visits, 33,000 cases of aggravated asthma and 70,000 missed days of work. The rules will cut hundreds of tons of toxic metals emitted by industrial boilers and process heaters including emissions of lead, arsenic, and chromium, all of which are associated with cancer and other serious adverse health effects. They will also reduce nationwide emissions of mercury — an extremely potent neurotoxin that can cause developmental defects in unborn babies and young children — by 8 tons per year, approximately 75 percent.

“Communities continually bearing the brunt of these emissions are tired of breathing dirty air,” said Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club’s Air Toxics Taskforce. “We urge EPA to pass strong rules that will require limits to the dangerous air people have to breathe.”

Currently there are more than a dozen college campuses that have campus boilers spewing pollution. The rules will require colleges and universities to install newer pollution controls on aging plants. 

“We urge the EPA to fully protect all communities from toxic pollution, including the many college campuses that will be impacted by this rule,” said Kim Teplitzky who leads the Sierra Club’s Campuses Beyond Coal Campaign. “Our colleges and universities should be places where young people can learn, thrive and innovate for the next generation of clean energy sources, not home to aging coal plants producing dangerous air pollution.”

EPA also proposed a related rule to define non-hazardous solid waste. Industry groups have long pushed for a narrow definition rule that would allow facilities that burn spent chemicals and solvents, scrap tires, scrap plastics, industrial sludges, and used oil as fuel in their boilers and process heaters to avoid controlling, monitoring, and reporting their toxic pollution. On this issue, EPA largely bowed to industry pressure. Although it is likely that thousands of such facilities are currently operating, EPA has made no effort to identify them and claims — incredibly — that it does not “believe” they exist.

“EPA should not finalize piecemeal rules that protect some and leave others vulnerable,” said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project. “Everyone deserves to breathe clean air.”

“Strong rules that protect all communities would be a testament to Lisa Jackson’s commitment to environmental justice,” said John Walke, Clean Air Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We encourage her to do the right thing.”

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.