SAN FRANCISCO (September 2, 2008) – EPA must take final action by January 15, 2009 on clean air plans to clean up the heavily polluted San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles area air basins under a lawsuit settled today by the Association of Irritated Residents (AIR) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The settlement contends that EPA violated the Clean Air Act when EPA failed to act on California’s clean air plans before federal deadlines.
“EPA should have acted two years ago to guarantee our health is protected,” said Tom Frantz, President of the San Joaquin Valley-based Association of Irritated Residents (AIR). “Instead, EPA stuck these plans in a drawer and refused to order California regulators to adopt more health protective plans.”
Since AIR and NRDC filed their lawsuit in January 2008, EPA has informed California regulators that the San Joaquin Valley’s plan was fundamentally flawed and needed significant modifications to comply with the Clean Air Act. Additionally, senior officials at the California Air Resources Board rescinded critically needed diesel truck clean up measures and other pollution reduction strategies in the plan for the Los Angeles area for several years, making it impossible for Southern California to meet the clean air standard for smog by 2010.
“Millions of Californians deal with asthma, chronic bronchitis, and other life-threatening respiratory diseases on a daily basis, all because of air pollution in California,” said Adrian Martinez, staff attorney with NRDC. “We shouldn’t have to drag EPA into court before they act on a plan proposed in 2003. That’s more than five years of air pollution we can’t afford.”
The initial lawsuit filed in January 2008 charged EPA with failure to implement the Clean Air Act by missing deadlines and not ruling on several key components of the State Implementation Plan (SIP), which serves as California’s clean air master plan. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA must determine whether California’s plans meet federal guidelines before the state can accept the plan and it becomes enforceable in Federal Court. If the plan doesn’t meet clean air standards, then EPA must compel the state to comply with the law or do the job itself.
One of EPA’s main responsibilities under the Clean Air Act is to ensure California adopts and implements plans to clean up the state’s notoriously bad air pollution. Areas of California including the San Joaquin Valley and the Los Angeles region suffer from some of the most intractable air quality problems in the nation, making it critically important that strong, enforceable plans be in place to clean the air. The last approved SIP for the South Coast is one that was developed more than a decade ago.