RHA Sues U.S. EPA to Enforce Ozone Standards

RHA Sues U.S. EPA to Enforce Ozone Standards

On Thursday, August 2, Respiratory Health Association and the Environmental Law and Policy Center (our pro bono lawyers) filed a lawsuit challenging U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s final ruling regarding the standards for measuring smog (also known as ground level ozone) in the Chicago region. In an effort to weaken current environmental protections, U.S. EPA is redefining the regional boundaries that are used. This will make areas that were not in compliance (i.e. dirty areas) appear to be clean under the new map.

Here is a summary of the issue and an opportunity to get involved in protecting the air we breathe:

What is Smog?

Smog, also known as ground-level ozone, is formed when pollution from power plants, industrial facilities, motor vehicles and other sources reacts with sunlight to form ozone. Ozone is a lung irritant that harms people with asthma or other respiratory diseases, older adults, children and other vulnerable people. It can drive kids and sensitive adults inside on hot summer days and put outdoor workers at risk.

What Happened?

After confirming the dangers of breathing smog pollution and tightening the health standard through the Clean Air Act in 2015, the U.S. EPA finalized boundaries for geographic areas that fail to meet the ozone health standard in May this year. The purpose of such boundaries is to ensure air pollution rules and policies are put in place to reduce air pollution and move these areas toward meeting the standard.

Last December, several Midwest counties were included within the boundaries as areas that did not meet the standard and were required to reduce air pollution. However, this May U.S. EPA made last-minute, unwarranted changes excluding these areas from the strict pollution limits. A Chicago Tribune article also points out that these loosened restrictions benefit big industrial companies planning to build in these areas and save them from making expensive improvements for pollution-control.

“We are very concerned that EPA would dial back these decisions,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association in Chicago. “Everyone deserves to breathe clean air, and EPA’s decision puts area residents at risk of more lung infections, asthma attacks and hospitalizations for respiratory problems.”

A Chance to Get Involved!

As a part of this lawsuit, we need the voices of people living in the affected areas to make our case stronger and protect clean air across the region. Do you or someone you know live in McHenry County (IL), Kenosha County (WI), Porter County or the south half of Lake County (IN)? RHA is looking for people living in these areas to help us to protect the health of Chicagoland residents by forcing U.S. EPA to comply with its restrictions on smog pollution.

If you want to stand up for clean air and tell EPA how bad air quality affects your life, please send a note to Brian Urbaszewski at [email protected].

Environmental and Public Health Groups Challenge US EPA’s Decision to Exclude Areas from Ozone Non-attainment List that Would Trigger Clean-up

Environmental and Public Health Groups Challenge US EPA’s Decision to Exclude Areas from Ozone Non-attainment List that Would Trigger Clean-up

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 2, 2018

Contact: Judith Nemes
(312) 795-3706
[email protected]

Washington, D.C.On August 2, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and Respiratory Health Association (RHA) sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the EPA’s final rule, published in June 2018, that identified areas that meet and fail to meet the 2015 ozone air quality health standard.

ELPC and RHA are challenging the exclusion of certain areas in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis “non-attainment” areas that have smog levels above the 2015 standard.

“EPA has sadly disregarded the plain facts and sound science in making these designations,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director. “EPA has not followed the letter or the spirit of the Clean Air Act and has excluded areas involving unhealthy air quality for millions of Midwesterners. Cleaner air is essential to public health and a strong economy in our region.”

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to designate non-attainment areas in counties where air quality fails to meet federal health standards for ozone and where local emissions contribute to unhealthy air quality. The states must then take steps to reduce emissions of the air pollution that cause smog.

In 2015, EPA issued a more protective ozone air health standard, which triggered a process to identify violating areas so that clean air planning could begin. In the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis areas, EPA originally proposed more comprehensive non-attainment areas, but excluded certain areas in its final decision in June in response to requests from the states.

“We are very concerned that EPA would dial back these decisions,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association in Chicago. “Everyone deserves to breathe clean air, and EPA’s decision puts area residents at risk of more lung infections, asthma attacks, and hospitalizations for respiratory problems.”

Ozone is formed when pollution emitted by power plants, industrial facilities, motor vehicles and other activities reacts with sunlight to form ozone. Ozone, also known as “smog,” is a lung irritant and harms people with asthma or other respiratory diseases, older adults, children and other vulnerable people. It can drive kids and sensitive adults inside on hot sunny summer days  and put outdoor workers at risk.

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IEPA Takes Public Comment on Volkswagen Settlement Spending Amidst Pressure from RHA, Partners

IEPA Takes Public Comment on Volkswagen Settlement Spending Amidst Pressure from RHA, Partners

At the end of May, RHA, our clean air advocates and partner organizations rallied together at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago to demand that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) use funds received in the Volkswagen diesel settlement to adopt the best clean vehicle spending plan possible. Held by the IEPA, this open meeting was the direct result of long-standing efforts by RHA and our partners to pressure the IEPA to take public comment.

The IEPA received nearly $109 million from the Volkswagen settlement after it was discovered that Volkswagen had installed software into its vehicles that masked the true level of emissions produced during emissions testing, thereby allowing U.S. diesel vehicles to emit up to 40 times the legally allowable level of pollution.

Money from this settlement was meant to fund clean vehicle projects that eliminate air pollution and prevent lung damage. However, IEPA’s draft plan for how to use this money was created in private meetings with business groups—without public input. The business groups pushed to cut emissions from trains, ferries and tugboats rather than on vehicles, which contribute more to air pollution and are central to the Volkswagen issue. As such, the plan largely reinforced investment in polluting fossil fuel use, prolonging smog and worsening global warming.

RHA, our advocates and our partner organizations pressured IEPA to take public comment on the plan—just like several other states that received Volkswagen settlement funds. The advocacy efforts eventually led to coverage in multiple media outlets, including the Chicago Tribune, Sun Times and Chicago Tonight. The Illinois Senate passed a bill that would force the IEPA to hold meetings and convene a task force to propose priorities for where and how to spend the money. Ultimately, a compromise plan was created that demanded that IEPA host open meetings in Springfield, East St. Louis and Chicago.

At the Chicago meeting on May 30, we called for cleaner, zero-emission, 100% electric transit vehicles and charging infrastructure. RHA hopes to ensure that the cleanest available technology solutions are used today and we continue moving toward zero-emission technology and electric vehicles.

Because of the efforts of RHA, our advocates and our partner organizations, IEPA is now much closer to using the funds to help reduce air pollution.

First Air Pollution Action Day of 2018 Called

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 25, 2018

CONTACT:
Michele Reyes
Coordinator, Marketing and Communications
Respiratory Health Association
Desk: (312) 628-0226

 

First Air Pollution Action Day of 2018 Called

CHICAGO – Respiratory Health Association is alerting the public that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued an Air Pollution Action Day alert to individuals in the Chicago Metropolitan area for Saturday. As a result of the high temperatures and low wind speeds, air pollution levels, specifically ground-level ozone, are expected to reach the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” category. This is the first Action Day issued for 2018. Due to weather conditions, ozone smog levels may remain high for several days over the holiday weekend.

An Air Pollution Action Day is declared when weather conditions are such that widespread ozone or fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels are expected to be at or above the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” category on the U.S. EPA’s Air Quality Index for multiple days. Saturday, May 26th is expected to meet these criteria, therefore, an Air Pollution Action Day is being declared. At increased levels, ground-level ozone poses a potential health hazard to sensitive populations, especially individuals with respiratory or pulmonary conditions as well as active children and adults. Those individuals should take special precautions and follow their physician prescribed regimen. Residents should keep cool and limit physical activity when air pollution levels are high.

Employers and residents of the Chicago metropolitan area are asked to follow “Green Actions” (as described below) to reduce contributions to air pollution. These groups are also encouraged to share air quality forecasts and Action Day alerts with colleagues, friends and family to help protect their health.

  • Take public transit, Rideshare, walk or bike.
  • If driving, avoid idling, consolidate errands and run them after 7 p.m. when sunlight is not as strong.
  • Avoid using gasoline-powered equipment on Air Pollution Action Days.
  • Switch to energy efficient light bulbs.
  • Set your thermostat up 2 degrees.
  • Turn off and unplug electronics not in use.
  • Use environmentally-friendly household and cleaning products.
  • Use a charcoal chimney or gas grill instead of lighter fluid when grilling.
  • Do not burn leaves and other yard waste.
  • Sign-up to receive air quality forecasts via email at enviroflash.info!

Up-to-date information on daily air quality for the Chicagoland area can be found at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s www.airnow.gov webpage.

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Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in metropolitan Chicago since 1906. Today, the association addresses asthma, COPD, lung cancer, tobacco control and air quality with a comprehensive approach involving research, education and advocacy activities. For more information, visit www.resphealth.org.

COMMEMORATING A CLEAN AIR MILESTONE

Fisk & Crawford Coal-Fired Power Plants Closed August 2012.

 

Five years ago this month, Respiratory Health Association helped secure the closure of Chicago’s two biggest polluters, the coal-fired Fisk power plant located in Pilsen and the Crawford plant in Little Village.

Together they emitted thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) every year, forming ozone smog and fine particle pollution. Their closures have saved an estimated 210 lives, prevented 330 heart attacks and avoided 3,600 pollution-caused asthma attacks – notable health victories worth celebrating at this five-year anniversary mark.

Years of effort by RHA’s staff and advocates as well as our Chicago Clean Power Coalition partners, working with the Chicago City Council and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, made these victories possible.

Of course, once the confetti was swept up we got right back to work.

 

Since that time we have achieved additional air quality improvements through our clean energy policy work and by educating individuals, business leaders and elected officials about clean-running vehicles and clean construction policies. Last year, RHA helped pass the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), making Illinois a nationwide leader in clean energy by expanding clean renewable solar and wind energy, reducing the use of coal and enacting better energy efficiency policies, all of which will lead to cleaner air.

Unfortunately, dirty coal plants continue to operate in Lake and Will counties as well as downstate, degrading air quality across the region. We are continuing our long-term legal and policy change strategies to combat these polluters. You can help RHA achieve our vision of clean air for all: donate now and sign up for RHA’s e-advocacy team to be part of our efforts.