Press Release Sep 17, 2020

Conservation and Public Health Organizations Demand Clean Air, Environmental Justice for San Joaquin Valley

The state of California is failing in its duty to clean up San Joaquin Valley air, when climate action is more necessary than ever.

Bakersfield, Calif – Environmental justice, public health and conservation organizations fighting for clean air in the San Joaquin Valley filed a petition today against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for allowing California to evade Clean Air Act requirements. For too long, the state has allowed air pollution to plague communities, and EPA’s approval will only make matters worse. The petition, demanding that EPA hold state and local agencies accountable for perpetuating deadly air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley, was filed amid the ongoing climate crisis, global pandemic and one of California’s worst fire seasons in history.

Despite the current public health crisis, EPA has rubberstamped a plan by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) that knowingly fails to meet air quality standards established over a decade ago.

“The Clean Air Act requires the state and local air districts to adopt plans to meet national air quality standards, and EPA’s job is to ensure those plans are real,” explained Greg Muren, an attorney with Earthjustice. “No one — not the public, not industry, not even the agencies that drafted them — actually believes the plans for cleaning up the San Joaquin Valley’s notorious air pollution will be successful. But EPA approved them anyway because it cannot be bothered with doing the hard work that is required. This is not how the law works.”

This petition to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit challenges EPA’s approval of a portion of a plan for achieving the 2006 fine particulate matter (PM2.5) National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) under the Clean Air Act, which CARB and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD) submitted to the EPA back in 2019. The plan included a request for a 5-year extension to attain the NAAQS. California already failed to meet the deadline for attaining this standard back in December, and petitioners contend that California did not meet the federal requirements necessary to push the deadline back to 2024.

“For years, CARB has remained virtually silent when faced with demands for answers advocates on how it will actually meet public health guidelines to clean up the dirty air that currently plagues Valley communities and nearby national parks, including Yosemite and Sequoia,” said Mark Rose, Sierra Nevada Program Manager with the National Parks Conservation Association. “While the California has requested more time to reach attainment, the state has wasted no time in advancing harmful permits for more oil and gas development in the region and allowing for thousands of acres of orchards to be openly burned.”

The San Joaquin Valley has the worst PM2.5 air pollution in the nation and remains decades behind in reaching levels needed to meet existing public health standards. Oil and gas development permitting for new production wells has increased 190% over the first 6 months of 2020 as compared to the first 6 months of Governor Newsom’s administration. Meanwhile, the state’s plan for significantly reducing emissions relies heavily on aspirational, general commitments rather than specific control measures, and CARB and the SJVAPCD are billions of dollars short of the amount they themselves say they need to attain the NAAQS.

“Now, more than ever, with COVID and the wildfires in the West, we know the importance of clean air,” said Gordon Nipp of the Kern-Kaweah Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We are frustrated that as we struggle to breathe, we must once again take our air agencies to court to force them to meet air quality standards that should have been met long ago.”

A 2019 report by the National Parks Conservation Association found that Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks suffer significantly from the effects of climate change, hazy skies, unhealthy air and related harm to wildlife and wild places.

The petition was filed by the National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air (MAHA) and the Association of Irritated Residents (AIR). Earthjustice represents the petitioners.

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About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.