SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Clean-air advocates say the Environmental Protection Agency refuses to enforce smog standards for the San Joaquin Valley. “This suit addresses yet another chapter in EPA’s long history of neglecting its statutory duties to protect the Valley’s breathing public,” the Sierra Club and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air claim in Federal Court.
Although a national 8-hour ozone standard was introduced in 1997, the EPA still has not approved or disapproved an ozone plan for the Valley, missing a deadline that passed 1 year ago.
The Valley first hit “serious nonattainment” for a 1-hour standard in 1990, and reached the designation for the 8-hour standard in 2004.
The Valley, surrounded by mountains and often marked by stagnant weather, acts as a sink, becoming filled with exhaust from agricultural activities and highway traffic. Although mostly rural, “boom and bust sprawl” has contributed to the pollution problem, the Sierra Club says.
Emissions from industry and autos react in the sun to form ground-level ozone, or smog, which reduces plants’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide and damages lung tissue in humans and animals.
According to the Sierra Club, 1 in every 5 children in the Valley suffers from asthma – twice the national average. The San Joaquin Valley consistently has some of the worst air quality in the nation.
The Sierra Club says local and state agencies produced a weak and inadequate ozone plan, which is “not approvable,” as it does not provide any strategy for reaching attainment.
Although this has tied the federal agency’s hands, the groups say the EPA has “enabled this behavior by ignoring statutory deadlines and torturing its interpretations of the law.”
Represented by Paul Cort of Earthjustice in Oakland, the groups seek declaratory and injunctive relief under the Clean Air Act.
In January this year, the EPA proposed to strengthen the national ambient air quality standard for ground-level ozone, which was weakened under President George W. Bush in 2008.