EPA Agrees to Address Air Pollution in 7 States Following Lawsuit

The Environmental Protection Agency consented to take important steps to reduce dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide air pollution in seven states last week in response to a lawsuit filed by three environmental protection organizations. 

The agreement requires the EPA to determine whether air pollution reduction measures meet the required national standards under the Clean Air Act in parts of Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

“‘We are pleased that the EPA is moving forward to protect the 900,000 people who live, work and pay in these seven states,’” Zachary Fabish, a Sierra Club attorney, said in a press release. “‘Clean air is a fundamental right for all, and effective safeguards are essential for protecting so many communities, especially those which are most vulnerable and exposed to toxic pollution.’”

According to the amended complaint filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Environmental Health, and the Sierra Club in October 2020, the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards that limit the amount of sulfur dioxide in the air, which can be harmful to people and the environment. 

“Even short-term exposure to SO2 has significant health impacts, including decrements in lung function, aggravation of asthma, and respiratory and cardiovascular morbidity,” the suit states. “SO2 also contributes to the formation of acid rain, which damages trees, crops, historic buildings, and monuments, and alters the acidity of both soils and water bodies.” 

The largest source of sulfur dioxide air pollution comes from the combustion of fossil fuels containing sulfur by power plants and other industrial facilities. It is also produced during industrial processes, such as extracting metal from ore and oil refining, and by ships and other vehicles and heavy equipment that burn fuel with a sulfur content, court documents state.

Areas that do not meet National Ambient Air Quality standards must submit plans to improve air quality to the EPA, which the EPA must review within a specific time frame. The EPA is also required to confirm nonattainment areas have met air quality standards no later than six months after the attainment date, court documents state.