WASHINGTON, D.C. –(ENEWSPF)–July 14, 2015. Today, a coalition of environmental organizations and grassroots environmental justice groups – including the Sierra Club, Citizens for Environmental Justice, People Against Neighborhood Industrial Contamination, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Integrity Project, and EarthJustice – filed a motion to intervene in two pending federal cases in order to defend a recent environmental justice victory that closed clean air protection loopholes in 36 states for Startup, Shutdown and Malfunction (SSM) events.
Finalized in June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) action fixed a major gap in Clean Air Act protections that allowed industrial facilities such as coal-fired power plants, chemical plants and refineries in dozens of states to send unlimited amounts of dangerous air pollution into nearby communities. Some of these facilities often release more toxic pollution at times of startup, shutdown, and malfunctions than they emit during normal operations throughout the entire year. Industry groups and the State of Texas have challenged EPA’s action in both the D.C. Circuit Court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“It’s no surprise that big polluters and their supporters are challenging this rule so that they can keep violating their permit limits and the law,” said Andrea Issod, Senior Attorney at the Sierra Club. “However, EPA is required to close these loopholes because they are inconsistent with the Clean Air Act. The loopholes also have the real-world consequences of compromising air quality and public health.”
For decades, these SSM loopholes had been decried by public health and environmental justice organizations as an irresponsible and dangerous giveaway to polluters that threaten the health of vulnerable communities near fossil fuel facilities, which are frequently low income communities and communities of color. Despite the fact that coal-fired power plants, refineries and chemical plants can exceed legal pollution limits by ten times or more during these events, state agencies have repeatedly turned a blind-eye to the emissions.
“In Corpus Christi, Texas we routinely experience upsets and pollution from the nearby facilities, including flaring, flames, plumes of noxious black smoke, noxious chemical smells, and loud noises,” said Suzie Canales, co-founder of Citizens for Environmental Justice. “These emissions create giant plumes of pollution that saturate our community with offensive smells, make our eyes water and pollute our lungs. Our community strongly supports the closure of these loopholes and we oppose any attempt to roll-back them back.”
The agency’s recent decision to close these loopholes was the culmination of decades of hard work from legal advocates, citizens groups, and environmental organizations across the country.
“Those standing in the way of this long-overdue safeguard should be ashamed for choosing to side with big polluters over the health and well-being of communities across the country,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “These polluters have been given a free pass to dump on neighboring communities for far too long, and we stand united to ensure this loophole stays closed, once and for all.”
The intervention against the industry group challenge will allow this diverse coalition to defend this environmental justice victory and shore up support for its clean air protections.
“By taking action to close illegal loopholes in state plans, EPA’s taken an important step toward protecting communities’ health and bolstering their important right to protect themselves against the noxious air pollution that burdens them,” said Seth Johnson, an attorney at EarthJustice. “Communities depend on meaningful, enforceable standards to protect them against harmful air pollution. When polluters belch forth huge amounts of air pollution, community members pay a real price. It’s just wrong for the polluters to get a free pass.”
About Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. For more information, visit http://www.sierraclub.org.