WildEarth Guardians published this news release on their lawsuit against EPA for failing to follow the Clean Air Act in Utah. The WildEarth Guardians case applies particularly to the four areas that failed to submit State Implementation Plans (SIPs) as required: San Joaquin, California; Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah; and Fairbanks, Alaska. Of these four nonattainment areas that failed to submit SIPs, Alaska is the farthest behind–Alaska has not released a draft SIP for public review and does not have statutory citation authority to enforce air pollution controls.
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>> Link: News Release – WildEarth Guardians Challenges EPA to Restore Clean Air in Utah
Lawsuit Targets Failure of Agency to Ensure Public Health is Protected from Deadly Particulate Pollution, Has Nationwide Implications Contact: Jeremy Nichols (303)437-7663 http://www.wildearthguardians.org
Thursday, May 16, 2013, Denver—WildEarth Guardians late yesterday filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its failure to ensure the State of Utah is cleaning up particulate pollution and safeguarding public health in the Salt Lake City region in accordance with the Clean Air Act.
“The State of Utah is putting public health behind the interests of polluters, in violation of the Clean Air Act,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “This suit is about compelling the EPA to stand up for clean air in Salt Lake City and neighboring communities, as well as across the nation.”
At issue is the EPA’s failure to ensure Utah is meeting deadlines to clean up fine particle pollution, otherwise known as PM2.5, under the Clean Air Act. The suit has nationwide implications as other states, including Alaska, California, Arizona, and a number of eastern states, have similarly failed to meet deadlines to clean up fine particle pollution.
PM2.5 refers to particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter, or 1/28th the width of a human hair. PM2.5 has been a plague in the Salt Lake region, often referred to as the Wasatch Front. Since the early 1990’s, the region has regularly violated federal health standards limiting PM2.5. Currently, much of the region—including all or portions of the Utah Counties of Utah, Salt Lake, Davis, Tooele, Weber, Box Elder, and Cache, as well as a portion of Franklin County, Idaho to the north of Cache County—is designated by the EPA as a “nonattainment” area due to ongoing violations of federal health standards.
Comprised of dust, heavy metals, and acid gases, particulate matter is linked to increased respiratory symptoms and difficulty breathing, decreased lung function, asthma attacks, and even premature death in people with heart or lung disease. See http://www.epa.gov/air/particlepollution/health.html. Every year, between 1,000 and 2,000 Utahns die prematurely because of particulate pollution. Exposure to particulate pollution along the Wasatch Front shaves two years from the lives of people who live in it, about one quarter of the impact of a pack a day smoking habit.
This past January, Wasatch Front cities, including Salt Lake City, experienced the country’s worst air pollution, with recorded PM2.5 levels four times higher than federal health standards. Current standards limit concentrations of PM2.5 to no more than 35 micrograms per cubic meter over a 24-hour period. According to monitoring data available on the EPA’s AirData website, concentrations in 2013 reached as high as 125 micrograms per cubic meter in Utah County, 97 micrograms per cubic meter in Cache County, and 69 micrograms per cubic meter in Salt Lake County.
Under the Clean Air Act, the State of Utah was required to submit by June 14, 2011 a plan to clean up the Wasatch Front’s PM2.5 pollution. This plan was required to ensure that pollution controls were implemented by December 14, 2013, and that the federal limits on PM2.5 pollution were met by December 14, 2015.
To date, the State of Utah has yet to submit a plan to the EPA to ensure PM2.5pollution is cleaned up along the Wasatch Front. Not only that, but the State of Utah has indicated it is not likely to clean up the region’s PM2.5 pollution until 2019.
“Clean air delayed is clean air denied,” said Nichols. “Utah’s pro-pollution stance and continued foot-dragging is a recipe for disaster, both economically and environmentally. We need intervention from the EPA to ensure this mess is cleaned up and we need it now.”
Where a state fails to submit a plan required under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to issue a formal “finding of failure to submit.” This finding triggers a two-year deadline during which the state must submit a plan and EPA must approve it, or EPA must promulgate its own plan, otherwise known as a federal plan.
Other states have similarly failed to submit PM2.5 clean up plans under the Clean Air Act to bring nonattainment areas into compliance by the dates required by the Clean Air Act. This is because, in part, the EPA promulgated rules that not only allowed the states more time to submit their plans, but that also allowed them to submit weaker plans than were required by the Clean Air Act. These rules were held to be illegal in January 2013 by the U.S. Court of Appeals of the D.C. Circuit.
Although WildEarth Guardians’ suit does not explicitly address other states, if successful, it will ensure EPA follows through to ensure all states, including Utah, clean up their PM2.5 pollution more quickly, as required by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado because the EPA Region 8 office, which oversees air quality in Utah, is headquartered in Denver.