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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
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EPA sued to force action on soot pollution in LA, Pennsylvania

Such "deadline lawsuits" usually force the agency to take action, according to one of the plaintiffs' lawyers.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a bad habit of not following through on its obligations, according to an attorney for a nonprofit suing the agency to make it complete processes for addressing soot pollution in two states.

The suit accuses the EPA of failing to ensure a plan to reduce soot pollution in Los Angeles and delaying a decision on whether soot pollution in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, exceeds legal limits, and was filed Thursday in the Northern District of California by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health.

While the issues behind the lawsuits are serious enough — the World Health Organization estimates soot pollution is behind the deaths of 3.2 million people worldwide each year, and the EPA estimates 40,000 Americans per year die premature deaths as a result of air pollution — Thursday's lawsuit is one of numerous “deadline suits" intended to kick the EPA into action on cases in which its already involved but dragging its feet.

Soot pollution, also known as fine particulate matter, penetrates deep into the lungs and bloodstream, causing premature death, cardiovascular illness, and respiratory diseases, including asthma and is linked to lung cancer, according to information from the Center for Biological Diversity. “Even short-term exposures can aggravate lung disease and trigger asthma attacks.”

“The EPA’s choice to put off addressing the dangerous soot pollution that is poisoning millions of people is immoral and illegal,” said Ryan Maher, an environmental health attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “The EPA is not fulfilling its core Clean Air Act duties, and people and ecosystems are paying the price, leaving us no choice but to sue.”

EPA spokesperson Melissa Sullivan declined to comment on pending litigation.

In Los Angeles, the plaintiffs say, California had submitted a state implementation plan (SIP) for the LA area in April 2017 to address serious pollution issues there. Six months later, the plan was deemed “administratively complete” but the EPA failed to approve the plan within 12 months, as required by the Clean Air Act.

“This date has passed, but the EPA has not taken any final action on these serious SIP elements,” the groups say in the complaint.

Allegheny County, which encompasses Pennsylvania’s second largest city Pittsburgh, ranks in the top 1% of counties in the United States for cancer risk from industrial air pollution, according to a study by the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. While the EPA has published a final clean data determination for the county, it has not issued an attainment determination for the region in a failure “to perform these mandatory duties,” the plaintiffs say in the lawsuit.

The groups seek a declaration from the court that EPA Administrator Michael Regan is in violation of the Clean Air Act and an injunction requiring him to “perform his mandatory duties by certain dates” while the court retains jurisdiction over the matter to enforce its orders.

But the EPA will likely settle the case, Maher said, as it usually does. In an interview, Maher said deadline suits comprise probably 10 to 15% of the cases his organization handles.

“I think resource issues do play a role but we’re seeing EPA actually perform actions once we file lawsuits,” Maher said. “This isn’t the only lawsuit we’ve filed that is deadline related.”

The agency is able to meet them and perform once a lawsuit is in place, he added.

“It’s not a Biden administration issue. We were compelled to bring plenty of lawsuits against Trump, if not more," Maher said, adding the Obama administration scored a fair number of lawsuits too.

While resources may be an issue for the EPA, “they’re not an excuse we’re willing to accept," he said.

Industry pushback at the both the state and EPA levels play a major role, and addressing the resulting backlog takes time that could be spent doing other things, he said.

“You could, theoretically, make a practice just addressing these backlogs,” said Maher.

Categories / Environment, Government

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