EPA, Conservation Groups Reach Agreement on Vehicle Air Toxics Emissions

On July 22, conservation groups announced they reached an agreement with EPA to address emissions of cancer-causing pollutants from cars, trucks and buses. The agreement, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Sierra Club vs. EPA, Number 1:04CV00094 (RBW)) is the result of litigation brought by Earthjustice on behalf of Sierra Club and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

"Millions of Americans are exposed to high levels of known human carcinogens and other harmful chemicals emitted by cars and trucks. After years of delay, we are encouraged that EPA has agreed to write rules to crack down on this pollution," stated U.S. PIRG Clean Air Advocate Emily Figdor.

Amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990 required EPA to promulgate rules by 1995 to reduce the toxic emissions from vehicles and fuels. EPA has indicated that cars, trucks, and buses are the number one source of toxic emissions in America. They emit more than one million tons of hazardous air pollutants every year, including more than 150,000 tons a year of benzene, a known human carcinogen.

"The toxics emitted by cars, trucks and buses pose a very serious health threat to millions of Americans," said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. "But with currently available technology, we can do a lot to reduce that risk. We are hopeful that EPA will now honor its obligation to the American people, and get these unacceptable risk levels down."

The groups said that EPA has acknowledged that, as a result of breathing toxic emissions from cars, trucks and buses, more than 100,000,000 Americans face a cancer risk that is well over the agency's one-in-one-million lifetime benchmark. The agency also has acknowledged that benzene reduction in gasoline significantly reduces public exposure at a cost of only one-tenth of one cent per gallon.

"We are greatly encouraged that EPA is moving forward to protect our health by limiting these dangerous pollutants," said Nat Mund, Senior Washington, D.C. Representative for Sierra Club. "We hope that EPA will put into place a strong and effective program, reducing pollution threats to our communities."

In January 2004, conservation groups challenged EPA's inaction on regulating mobile source toxics in the U.S District Court, District of Columbia Circuit. The suit involves allegations concerning EPA's obligations under section 202 of the Clean Air Act, as amended in 1990, and regulations promulgated thereunder, 40 C.F.R. ยง 80.1045, which provides that "No later than July 1, 2003, EPA shall propose any requirements to control hazardous air pollutants from motor vehicles and motor vehicle fuels that EPA determines are appropriate pursuant to section 202(l)(2) of the Clean Air Act."

The July 22 agreement requires EPA to "sign a proposed rule containing requirements to control hazardous pollutants from motor vehicles and motor vehicle fuels" no later than Feb. 28, 2006. A final rule on the action must be signed by Feb. 9, 2007.

The consent decree (PDF format) can be accessed at http://www.earthjustice.org/news/documents/7-05/04-0094_consent_decree.pdf.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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