The Sierra Club and a coalition of environmental groups are defending the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to address loopholes in 36 state’s implementation plans that allow excess emissions from industrial facilities during startups, shutdowns and malfunctions and don’t meet Clean Air Act requirements, the Sierra Club announced Tuesday.
“Industrial facilities, such as refineries and power plants, release large bursts of harmful air pollution over short periods of time during startup, shutdown, and malfunction (SSM) events. Releases during these events often far exceed emissions from normal operations because pollution controls are bypassed and pollution is vented directly to the air or excess gas is burned by a flare creating other air pollutants,” according to the brief filed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia late Monday by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.
“SSM events create very high concentrations of pollution in areas adjacent to the plants, causing severe and disproportionate impacts to communities that tend to be economically and socially disadvantaged,” the environmental groups continued.
A group of states and industry groups have challenged the final rule in Walter Coke Inc. et al. v. EPA, including the state of Alabama, Georgia Power Company and and the Texas Oil and Gas Association.
The EPA’s final rule addressing the emissions from industrial facilities during SSM events allowed in state implementation plans under the Clean Air Act applied to provisions in 36 states. The rule became applicable on May 22, 2015. States have until Nov. 22 of this year to submit revised state implementation plans.
“The Environmental Protection Agency is taking final action on a petition for rulemaking filed by the Sierra Club that concerns how provisions in EPA-approved state implementation plans treat excess emissions during periods of startup, shutdown or malfunction,” according to the rule. “Further, the EPA is clarifying, restating and revising its guidance concerning its interpretation of the Clean Air Act requirements with respect to treatment in SIPs of excess emissions that occur during periods of SSM.”
The action followed a 2011 Sierra Club petition for rulemaking on SSM loopholes, that requested the EPA notify states of the inadequacies in their state implementation plans and finalize a rule requiring states to revise their plans accordingly.
“The right to breathe clean air shouldn’t come with an asterisk that says, ‘as long as you don’t live in a community near a refinery or power plant.’ It’s as essential to our health as the right to drink clean water, and that’s why we are defending the EPA’s common sense decision to close these dangerous loopholes,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign, said in a statement Tuesday. “Pollution is pollution, and a child’s lungs don’t get a free pass if it came from a power plant that was malfunctioning, so the polluters shouldn’t get one, either. Defending this decision is about defending basic fairness, especially in low-income communities and communities of color that are hit hardest by air pollution.”
The Sierra Club said challengers are expected to file a responding brief by Sept. 26, after which the case will enter into oral argument.