Environmental Groups File Lawsuit Against EPA Over Gas Powerplant Air Pollution

EPA has not updated emission limits for new gas power plants in 16 years, exposing individuals living in surrounding areas to unnecessary levels of air pollution and a risk of health side effects

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faces a lawsuit brought two environmental groups, alleging that the agency is legally required to do more to control pollution emissions from gas-fired power plants, but is failing to protect Americans.

The Environmental Defense Club and the Sierra Club filed the complaint (PDF) last week in the U.S. District Court Northern District of California, seeking to force the EPA to uphold its responsibilities to review and revise the air pollution emission limits at new  power plants that use gas as fuel.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to review and revise the emission limits, called new source performance standards for new, modified and reconstructed stationary combustion turbines every eight years. However, the groups indicate the EPA has not updated these standards for 16 years, which has caused avoidable and unnecessary harm to the public and environment.

The Environmental Defense Club and the Sierra Club jointly served a written notice to EPA administrators on September 29, 2022, more than sixty days prior to the filing of the lawsuit, according to the complaint. However, the groups claim no adequate or justifiable reasoning was provided for the EPA’s inaction.

Nitrogen Oxide Emission Risks

The lawsuit claims the current limits for nitrogen oxides and other emissions from new gas plants were last updated in 2006, but have been neglected since, allowing many new plants to release excessive levels of the gasses that contribute to the formation of ozone and smog.

According to the environmental groups, these avoidable emissions of air pollutants from new combustion turbines adversely impact the surrounding communities breathing air, viewing of natural scenery, and enjoyment of lakes, river and natural environments. As a result, individuals who live in the surrounding communities and areas that are exposed to unnecessary levels of emissions may now face increased risks of respiratory damage.

The lawsuit points to many adverse side effects to nitrogen oxide exposure, which past research has linked to the development of severe respiratory infections, asthma and chronic lung disease. Research has specifically confirmed individuals in communities surrounding industrial plants releasing NOx in excessive levels were associated with increases in the occurrence of emphysema and decreased lung functioning.

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As a result of the EPA’s inaction, the environmental groups are calling requesting the Court to declare that the EPA Administrator is in violation of the nondiscretionary duty to review, and to issue a mandatory injunction requiring the Administrator to;

  • Issue a proposed revision of the NSPS for new combustion turbines, or a final decision not to revise such NSPS, within 120 days,
  • Issue a final revision of the NSPS for new combustion turbines by December 15, 2023, unless he decided not to revise such NSPS.

Air Pollution Health Effects

Past studies on the effects of air pollutants have revealed a direct correlation between poor air quality and the onset of illnesses from rheumatoid arthritis to inflammatory bowel disease. Fine particulate and carbon monoxide exposure has been shown to increase the risk of psoriasis flare-ups as well as the severity of the flare-ups when they occur.

Even developing infants can suffer ill effects from air pollutants. Research into the effects of air pollution on infants in the United States indicate nearly 12,000 preterm births are caused by exposure to air pollution annually; with close to 6 million preterm births and 3 million underweight infants being born worldwide.

Earlier this year in April, the results of the 23rd annual “State of the Air” 2022 report was released by the American Lung Association, examining the levels of fine particles (soot) and ground-level ozone (smog) across the United States, and identifying areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

The report shows that nearly 140 million Americans reside in areas that have unhealthy levels of soot and smog. The West Coast, mainly California, has the worst short-term particulate matter pollution, with the highest levels detected in Fresno, California. The worst ozone levels in the country were found in Los Angeles.

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