The following is from NRDC's clean air advocate Adrian Martinez on today's Ninth Circuit decision ruling in favor of Environmental Justice (EJ) groups:
"Residents who like to breathe clean air had a good day in Southern California. This morning, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a coalition of environmental and environmental justice groups that argued there have to be consequences for failing to comply with the Clean Air Act. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA sets clean air standards called National Ambient Air Quality Standards. States must develop plans to meet these standards. These plans are submitted to EPA for approval, and EPA must decide whether these plans are legal or not. If EPA determines that the plans are legal, then the plans become enforceable in Federal Court. If the plans are deemed illegal, then EPA must compel the state to comply with the law or do the job itself.
Today’s case dealt with an ozone plan that was prepared for the Los Angeles region. The EPA found that the plan would not meet the clean air standard on time, and proposed to do nothing about it. The Court determined that “EPA’s decision to do nothing is especially troublesome in light of the [Clean Air] Act’s overall purpose of ensuring states come into compliance with clean air standards.” Because the smog plan at issue in this case would not actually meet the clean air standard on time, the Court said that California needs to go back to the drawing board and develop a real plan, not just an unenforceable plan.
The Court was also critical of the plan for its inclusion of unenforceable measures to clean up smog-forming emissions from pesticide pollution. The Court found that these plans cannot include straw men measures, but rather must include real strategies to reduce harmful pollution. The Court also critiqued EPA for allowing the Los Angeles region to exempt itself from reducing pollution from its clogged and congested transportation system. The Clean Air Act requires regions to ensure that as vehicle use increases, parallel strategies like increased use of public transit, carpooling, bicycling infrastructure, and other measures aimed at reducing emissions from the transportation system receive additional support. The Court ordered the Los Angeles region to do more to fix its transportation problems, which will result in dramatic reductions in smog pollution in the upcoming years.
The Court’s decision is especially timely as air agencies have recently sought to weaken clean air protections. The Los Angeles region suffers 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. But while many of California’s residents suffer from increasingly high rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, the plans that would lead the state to cleaner air are totally ineffective. This is not the time for half-measures. We need bold plans that actually achieves clean air. I am happy the Court agrees with us in pushing for what Congress promised Los Angeles area residents when they passed the Clean Air Act.
People’s lives and health depend on strong plans to clean up LA's dirty air. Dr. Jane Hall and a team from California State University at Fullerton has estimated that air pollution deaths in the region are more than double the deaths from motor vehicle related deaths. Her team also estimated that failure to meet clean air standards for ozone and particulate matter results in a cost of $1,250 per person per year in the Los Angeles region or a total of $22 billion dollars in annual costs associated with failing to meet the Clean Air Act standards.
Overall, the Court has revived a sense of accountability in clean air planning in the nation’s smog capitol. The decision today seeks to translate a clean air plan from just a stack papers on the shelf to a requirement to actually meet clean air standards to protect the health."
For more from the fearless Mr. Martinez, please visit his blog.