Environmental Groups Sue to Stop EPA Loophole Allowing Industrial Plants to Turn off Pollution Controls

WASHINGTON, D.C. March 26, 2018 – Today, public health and environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit to protect communities against the risk of a new tidal wave of toxic pollution unleashed by the Trump Administration breaking with decades of precedent, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has vastly expanded a loophole that allows major industrial polluters to turn off their pollution control equipment and pump tons of additional lead, chromium and other hazardous air pollutants into surrounding neighborhoods.

Since it was enacted in 1990, the Clean Air Act has required all “major” sources of hazardous air pollutants to reduce their hazardous emissions by the maximum achievable amount. Virtually every major industry—chemical plants, refineries, lead smelters, paper mills, etc.—has been meeting these requirements for years. EPA’s new action, a 4-page memorandum rushed out without notice or opportunity for public comment, or analysis of air pollution and public health impacts, will change all that.

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By virtue of meeting the Clean Air Act’s requirements, thousands of major polluters across the country will be eligible to stop meeting these requirements. Under EPA’s new rule, they will be able to turn down, turn off, or disconnect their pollution controls and double, triple, or even quadruple their toxic emissions. They will also no longer have to monitor their emissions or accurately report them.

“EPA’s action is dangerous and shameful,” said Patrice Simms, Vice President of Litigation for Earthjustice’s Healthy Communities Program representing the groups in the lawsuit. “People from overburdened communities need better protection from hazardous air pollution, instead the Trump Administration is trying to take away what protection they have.”

“People who live near smelters and chemical plants are already exposed to far too much toxic pollution. They are suffering on a daily basis from pollution-related sickness, and many have children and other family members who have died of cancer,” said Jane Williams of California Communities Against Toxics. “The last thing they need is for the Trump administration to make their homes and neighborhoods even more toxic than before.”

“Once again, the Trump administration is putting the health of polluter balance sheets over the health of our families and children,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “For decades, polluters have been able to meet this Clean Air Act requirement, and the administration’s decision to grant them this toxic loophole is as heartless as it is reckless. Real people will pay the price with this cruel decision and we will do everything we can to stop it.”

Earthjustice is representing, California Communities Against Toxics, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Ohio Citizen Action, The Environmental Integrity Project and Sierra Club. The Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council are also joining the suit.

“This attempt to save money by turning off pollution controls will only further shift the burden of pollution to the rest of us, especially fenceline communities. Polluters can and should save money by preventing pollution in the first place.” said Melissa English, Deputy Director Ohio Citizen Action.

“This new loophole upends clean air protections that have been in place for nearly a quarter-century, and places families and communities at greater risk of exposure to some of the most dangerous types of pollution,” said Tomás Carbonell, Director of Regulatory Policy and Lead Attorney for Environmental Defense Fund.  “We are determined to defeat this lawless and reckless action in court.”

A report released today by The Environmental Integrity Project examined 12 large industrial facilities in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota and concluded that the regulatory rollback could allow them to release more than four times more toxic air pollutants – such as lead and benzene — than they do today, with the total rising from 121,082 pounds a year today to 540,000 pounds annually.

“EPA is inviting companies to save a few bucks by reducing their use of pollution control systems they’ve been running for years, even if that dumps more toxic air pollution on their neighbors,” said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project.  “Let’s hope the court sees through this give-away and blocks the Trump team’s latest effort to unravel the Clean Air Act.”