Today, health and environmental advocates represented by Earthjustice, sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the agency’s failure to increase air pollution protections in over 30 cities that have dangerous levels of ozone smog. Communities at issue include major metropolitan areas like Baltimore, Maryland; Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Phoenix, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Washington, D.C.
“Communities without clean air immediately need the protections and emission reductions that they are entitled to under the Clean Air Act,” said Marvin Brown, the Earthjustice attorney representing the plaintiffs in this case. “EPA has allowed states to continue with business as usual, while their residents suffer from dangerous levels of air pollution. We are going to court to ensure that EPA does its job.”
The cities listed are subject to Clean Air Act protections because their ozone levels have exceeded the standards EPA established in 2015 to protect human health and ecosystems. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA was legally obligated to determine by February and March 2022 whether these cities cleaned up their air enough to meet the 2015 standards. They didn’t, and are now subject to stronger protections. But the EPA failed to force these states and cities to implement ways to improve smog pollution. Meanwhile, communities and natural areas continue to endure toxic air pollution.
While ozone is good as a protective layer in the stratosphere, ground-level ozone causes asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. It also harms plants and even entire ecosystems, as it contributes to climate change. Ozone pollution happens when volatile organic compounds prevalent in oil, gas, and petrochemical development, as well as other mixtures of gases resulting from the burning of fossil fuels like coal and fracked gas, react with the sunlight. Ozone-forming pollutants come from cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, and chemical plants.
Sources of ozone-forming pollution are often located in low-income communities and communities of color. In Texas, for example, low-income communities of color along the Houston Ship Channel face extreme pollution burdens from petrochemicals and oil refining operations. Those industries are responsible for large amounts of the smog-forming pollution that affects the entire region. When the EPA takes its legally required action to increase clean air protections in Houston, facilities in the Ship Channel area will face stronger limits on the harmful volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen they generate.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, on behalf of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Downwinders at Risk, HEAL Utah, and Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice.
Quotes from our clients:
“As nurses, we know all too well the negative health impacts of poor air quality. Everyone has a fundamental right to clean air and a healthy environment and the EPA is neglecting its duty to ensure that for millions of people across the country,” said Katie Huffling, executive director, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. “Our work first led us to confronting the dangers of air pollution in San Antonio, but no person or community should be disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards. The EPA must actively work to better protect communities that have been most harmed by exposure to air pollution and other contamination.”
“Across the state, Utahns continue to experience the impact of poor air quality and ground-level ozone while we wait for EPA to finally act to protect our people,” said Karen Tuddenham, Executive Director of Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah). “Low-income and historically marginalized communities, especially in Salt Lake City, cannot continue to bear the brunt of air pollution as a result of EPA’s inaction. The agency must increase protections and diligently work on addressing air quality in Utah and across the country.”
“We need proactive federal intervention to meet these health-based standards in Texas, but we’re willing to sue for help too,” said Downwinders at Risk Director Jim Schermbeck. “Asking the State of Texas to enforce the Clean Air Act in 2022 is like asking the State of Mississippi to enforce the Civil Rights Act in 1965. Texans overwhelmingly want cleaner air, but they need EPA, and groups like these, to be their advocates. Their state leadership has abandoned them.”
“Every year, the majority of Marylanders continue to suffer the consequences of breathing unhealthy air. Poor air quality disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income communities,” said Josh Tulkin, director of the Sierra Club, Maryland Chapter. “Maryland must take bold steps to reduce pollution from cars and trucks, reduce burning fossil fuels to heat our buildings, and transition from coal and gas to clean energy. It is critical that the EPA properly designate our air quality to ensure the state of Maryland has accurate information and takes the necessary steps to address this ongoing public health issue.”