Sierra Club Wants|Action on SoCal Air

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Environmental Protection Agency endangers public health by sitting on a plan to reduce particulate matter in California’s South Coast Air Basin, the Sierra Club claims in court.
     The Sierra Club and Physicians for Social Responsibility sued the EPA in Federal Court on Wednesday, under the Clean Air Act.
     “The big issue is that the EPA hasn’t processed the paperwork for the plan, which many people think is itself inadequate,” plaintiffs’ attorney Adriano L. Martinez told Courthouse News.
     “It’s important that the EPA does its job on time because these plans are one of the only ways that areas can clean up their air. Folks are frustrated, and the environmental groups have filed suit to make sure the EPA is pushing along on this road map for clean air in Los Angeles.”
     Fine particulate matter can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory illnesses, precipitating heart attacks and premature death. It “consists of tiny, dirty particles that come from sources like diesel exhaust, agricultural activities, and heavy industry. These tiny particles can be easily inhaled and lodged deep in the lungs and even absorbed into the bloodstream where they can cause a host of negative health impacts,” according to the complaint.
     Martinez said that around 5,000 people die each year from air pollution.
     “To put it in perspective, more people die each year from bad air than from homicide,” he said. “It’s pretty dire down here.”
     Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter are especially dangerous because they are made of more toxic materials than larger particles, including heavy metals and carcinogens, according to the complaint. They also damage the ecosystem by changing the nutrient characteristics of water and soil, killing plants and sickening animals.
     California’s South Coast Air Basin is one of the most heavily polluted areas in the country by fine particulate matter. Surrounded by mountains and burdened by pollution from heavy industry and millions of cars, people in the South Coast “suffer from high rates of asthma and other health ailments and experience regular impairment of natural visibility,” the complaint states.
     The South Coast area includes all of Orange County and the industrialized parts of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino. About 18 million people live in the area.
     “The health concerns are dramatic, ranging from kids missing school because of asthma to people having heart attacks to premature death. It’s one of the reasons people are so frustrated with delays in bringing clean air,” Martinez said.
     The Clean Air Act tasks the EPA with protecting public health by establishing air quality standards for harmful pollutants such as fine particular matter. Areas that do not meet standards are designated nonattainment areas and have 18 months to submit attainment plans to the EPA that detail how they intend to comply with the standard.
     The EPA then has six months to determine if the plan is complete and twelve months to approve, disapprove, or partly approve it.
     In 2006, the EPA revised the national ambient air quality standards for fine particulate matter to a 24-hour standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
     Three years later, it declared the South Coast a nonattainment area for the new standard.
     The California Air Resources Board submitted the South Coast’s 2012 air quality management plan in February 2013, which became legally complete on Aug. 13 that year. The EPA had until Aug. 13, 2014 to take action on the plan, but did not.
     “The groups are optimistic that solutions exist, but we need the plans in place. If the agency doesn’t fulfill its legal duties, we can’t reach those solutions,” Martinez said.
     EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones told Courthouse News in an email that the agency is “unable to comment on ongoing litigation.”
     The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that the EPA violated the Clean Air Act, and an injunction ordering it to “immediately perform its mandatory duty.”
     Martinez works with Earthjustice in Los Angeles.

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