Lawsuit Seeks to Strengthen Weak Clean Air Plan for Southern California

Millions Living Near Freeways Currently Face Illegal Pollution Levels
LOS ANGELES (May 29, 2008) – A federally approved air pollution plan for the Los Angeles region should be strengthened because it does not adequately protect people near freeways from diesel truck pollution, according to a lawsuit filed today by NRDC and a coalition of environmental and health groups. In a petition filed with the ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the coalition challenges EPA’s approval of the caps on vehicle pollution because they would allow nearly 1.5 million people to continue to breathe some of the most dangerous air in the country.
“The Clean Air Act is supposed to protect air quality for everyone, including people who live near freeways,” said David Pettit, director of NRDC’s Southern California Clean Air Program. “Moving cargo from dirty diesel trucks to clean rail, replacing the aging fleet of large trucks in the region, and better air quality monitoring programs in communities adjacent to freeways are solutions available today that would make a dramatic impact on improving the region’s air.”
Recently, California submitted to EPA for approval a State Implementation Plan (SIP) for smog (ozone) and soot (fine particles smaller than 2.5 microns) for the Southern California Air Basin. Although the plan, known as the “2007 South Coast SIP,” has many important programs to reduce regional air pollution, it does not go far enough to reduce pollution along hundreds of miles of freeways throughout the region, according to the petitioner organizations. In addition to adoption of the promised truck rule, the groups seek stronger air quality regulations, better monitoring systems located in communities adjacent to freeways, and investment in clean electric trucks to replace the massive dirty diesel fleet currently serving the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Moving cargo to electrified rail could also eliminate pollution from millions of truck trips annually and free up the highways for local travel.
“Billions of dollars will be spent on California’s highway infrastructure in the coming years and the money can be spent to benefit the community or not,” said Jesse Marquez, executive director of Coalition for a Safe Environment. “Instead of expanding our highways to accommodate more dirty trucks, we should invest in clean, efficient cargo transportation such as MagLev and electric trains. The purpose of the lawsuit is to make sure the money is spent well to benefit local communities while improving air quality for all Angelenos.”
The South Coast Air Basin, which consists of Los Angeles County, Orange County and parts of San Bernadino and Riverside counties, has some of the worst air quality in the nation. Currently the region does not meet federal Clean Air Act standards for ozone and fine particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5). Fine particles of diesel exhaust are especially dangerous since they are inhaled more deeply into lung tissue and accumulate in the body over time.
“Just in the Los Angeles region, there are hundreds of families living near major freeways, not to mention schools, convalescent homes, and workplaces,” said Angelo Logan, executive director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. “The sooner we get these dirty, dangerous trucks off the road, the sooner we can look forward to fewer kids diagnosed with asthma and fewer adults facing diesel-related cancer, heart attacks and stroke.”
A recent report by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) confirms that elevated pollution levels can shorten the lives of residents by as much as 10 years. On May 21, 2008, CARB released new data projecting 24,000 air pollution-related deaths annually in California.  According to the EPA, 35 million Americans living within 100 meters of busy highways face increased health threats from air pollution. The coalition of groups includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Coalition for a Safe Environment, and Endangered Habitats League.