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Court Sides with Environmental Groups on Clean Air in California

(Beyond Pesticides, February 7, 2011) As a result of a petition filed by community groups, the Ninth U.S. District Court of Appeals says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must review its approval of California’s standards for air pollution caused by ozone and pesticides. Specifically, the groups are protesting a final action by EPA approving in part and disapproving in part revisions to California’s “State Implementation Plan” for meeting air quality standards under the federal Clean Air Act.

Los Angeles Smog, Photo Courtesy University of Michigan

Los Angeles Smog, Photo Courtesy University of Michigan

The petition, Association of Irritated Residents v. EPA, was filed by the Association of Irritated Residents, El Comite para el Bienestar de Earlimart, Community of Children’s Advocates Against Pesticide Poisoning, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

One of the issues the groups raise for review is EPA’s approval of a plan designed to reduce emission from pesticide application. The group argues that it violates the Clean Air Act because the plan lacks enforceable commitments.

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 superficial measures, but rather must include real strategies to reduce harmful pollution.

Pesticide pollution has a significant role in creating smog. After application, pesticides give off large quantities of volatile organic compounds (VOC), which contribute to the formation of smog. According to the plaintiffs represented by the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment (CPRE) in 2005, an environmental justice litigation organization based in San Francisco, pesticides are the fourth largest source of smog-forming VOC emissions in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

Smog can cause a variety of adverse health effects that include respiratory diseases such as asthma, susceptibility to various diseases, and heart disease. Children are of special concern. Because the lungs of children are not yet fully developed and because children inhale more air per unit of body weight than adults, they are more susceptible to adverse respiratory health effects.

The other two issues the groups raise in their petition for review is EPA’s violation of the Clean Air Act by failing to require transportation control measurea to combat any increase in vehicle miles traveled and EPA’s failure to order California to submit a revised attainment plan for the South Coast (Los Angeles) area after it disapproved a 2003 attainment plan.

In a detailed analysis, the appellate decision calls the EPA’s actions “arbitrary and capricious.” It also states that EPA has “unlimited discretion to ignore evidence indicating an existing State Implementation Plan might be substantially inadequate and choose to do nothing.”

In a similar case in August 2008, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a 2006 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California (Sacramento) that required California to establish limits on air pollution associated with pesticide use. The Appeals Court found that the lower court did not have jurisdiction to impose solutions under the Clean Air Act. Prior to 2005, the state did not regulate this source of pollution, even though the state had made a promise to reduce VOC emissions from pesticides in its smog clean-up plan adopted pursuant to the Clean Air Act. In April 2006, Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled in their favor, requiring California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to implement regulations to reduce VOC emissions from pesticides by 20% from 1990 levels by January 1, 2008.

For more information read our past news article, “Court-Imposed Pesticide Air Pollution Standard Reversed on Appeal.

Sources: Central Valley Business Times


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