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Groups threaten to sue EPA for lacking ‘valid’ air pollution plans

By on May 28, 2020

Photo by Jack Hamilton on Unsplash

Legal action includes areas of Missouri, Indiana, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and Guam

SAN JUAN — Three conservation groups filed a notice Thursday of their intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for allegedly failing to ensure their are “valid plans” for cleaning up sulfur dioxide air pollution.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set air-quality standards to protect people and the environment from pollutants like sulfur oxides, which are produced from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil.

The areas claimed to lack air-pollution plans include parts of Jackson County, Missouri, and Evangeline Parish, Louisiana; Huntington, Indiana; Piti-Cabras, Guam; and San Juan and Guayama-Salinas in Puerto Rico.

The EPA already determined that these areas, which are home to more than a million people, have sulfur dioxide pollution at levels high enough to trigger ecological harm and human health problems like asthma attacks, according to a statement.

“The Trump EPA’s failure to ensure clean air in these areas is made worse by the fact that they include many large minority populations at greater risk from COVID-19,” said Robert Ukeiley, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation organization. “When it’s equitably enforced, the Clean Air Act saves lives and promotes environmental justice by making sure everyone has clean air to breathe, regardless of their zip code.”

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that the highest risk groups for COVID-19 include people with asthma, said the organizations, which include the Center for Environmental Health, which focuses on protecting people from toxic chemicals, and the Sierra Club, the environmental organization that works to safeguard people’s health and protect wildlife.

They also pointed to the American Lung Association’s “State of Air” study, which found air pollution results in worse outcomes for people who have COVID-19 and similar diseases.

“Once the EPA determines an area’s air pollution exceeds the national standard, the law provides deadlines for the agency to ensure that states and U.S. territories have valid plans in place to clean up that pollution. In this case the EPA has missed those deadlines by anywhere from two months to more than 4 years,” the joint statement reads.

“Yet again, the Trump administration is putting the interests of polluters above public health,” said Zachary Fabish, a Sierra Club attorney. “The law requires the EPA to take concrete steps to improve the health of kids and families in some of our most vulnerable communities and the Trump administration is turning a blind eye.”

Directing the news media to the EPA’s own page on sulfur dioxide pollution, the groups explained that sulfur oxides may not only cause heart and lung diseases but may also be linked to developmental harm to children, according to agency studies.

“Sulfur oxides also contribute to acid rain and haze, damaging lakes, streams and ecosystems,” the statement adds.

In November, a federal district court in California ordered the EPA to stop delaying plans for cleaning up sulfur dioxide pollution in portions of eight states, settling a another lawsuit filed by the aforementioned groups.

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