Conservation Advocates Take Scott Pruitt's “Do-Nothing” Texas Pollution Plan to Court

For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

Michael Soules, Earthjustice, msoules@earthjustice.org, 202-797-5237, Emily Rosenwasser, Sierra Club, Emily.Rosenwasser@sierraclub.org, 312-229-4682, Angela Gonzales, National Parks Conservation Association, agonzales@npca.org, 202-419-3712, Sharyn Stein, EDF, sstein@edf.org, 202-572-3396 

Conservation Advocates Take Scott Pruitt's “Do-Nothing” Texas Pollution Plan to Court

Groups challenge EPA’s Regional Haze Pollution Cleanup Plan in Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

WASHINGTON - A group of clean air and parks conservation advocacy groups on Friday challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) plan to allow polluters to increase health and visibility-harming pollution in court. The groups filed a lawsuit in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, along with a petition for reconsideration to EPA, asserting that EPA’s Texas Regional Haze plan is unlawful and will do little to actually clean up pollution from Texas’ coal plants as it was originally intended to do. The groups are represented by Earthjustice and Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program. 

Friday’s challenge comes after a decade of deadlines missed by EPA and the state of Texas to establish a plan to reduce pollution from the state’s coal-fired power plants. These coal plants and other pollution sources are responsible for harming air quality in national parks and communities throughout the Southwest region.

In 2016, EPA proposed a strong plan to clean up dangerous pollutants from more than a dozen Texas coal plants and other polluting facilities. Administrator Pruitt’s EPA abandoned the proposal by October 2017, instead putting forward a plan that grants polluters a license to emit even more pollution into the air despite vocal opposition.

“When Scott Pruitt scrapped the previous, strong proposal to clean up haze pollution from Texas coal plants, he turned his back on the thorough technical analysis of career EPA staff and deferred to the coal industry’s wishes instead,” said Elena Saxonhouse, Attorney with the Sierra Club.  “We’re challenging Pruitt’s do-nothing plan because people in Texas and across the south have waited too long for clean air and clean parks.”

Coal plants in Texas emit the most visibility-impairing, lung-damaging sulfur dioxide pollution in the nation, and more than all of the coal plants in Oklahoma and Arkansas combined. This contributes to hazy skies and high rates of hospital admission, missed work, heart disease, breathing difficulties and premature death.

“It’s EPA’s duty, under the Clean Air Act, to protect the health of Texans – and all Americans – from dangerous pollution, and to ensure that our cherished National Parks and Wilderness Areas continue to have the awe-inspiring views that have made them powerful economic engines for surrounding communities,” said Elena Craft, Senior Health Scientist for EDF. “Instead, Scott Pruitt has issued a Texas Regional Haze Plan that allows Texas coal plants to continue emitting high levels of dangerous pollution that puts people at risk. Texas families deserve cleaner, safer, healthier air to breathe – from an EPA that is doing its job.”

“It’s wrong for EPA to let polluters wreck the air in our communities and national parks,” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Soules. “Instead of protecting clean air and people’s health, the agency has issued a plan that would allow more pollution, not less.  That’s why we are going to court to fight this.”

The Texas Haze Plan was intended to reduce haze in 15 national parks and wilderness areas across the south central United States, including the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, the Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks in Texas, and other areas.

“In no uncertain terms, EPA’s new Texas haze plan prioritizes the profits of polluters over people’s health and our natural heritage,” said Stephanie Kodish, Senior Director & Counsel of National Parks Conservation Association’s Clean Air Program. “Since the EPA refuses to hold Texas accountable for curbing air pollution that endangers people and degrades public lands across the Southwest, we are looking to the courts to uphold the law and mandate EPA to do its job.”

Under EPA’s new plan, none of these protected landscapes will realize improved air quality. This means continued poor visibility in national parks like Big Bend, and also puts the public’s health at risk. All told, these facilities are estimated to cause more than 677 deaths and thousands of asthma-related events and hospitalizations each year, with public health costs totaling more than $6.7 billion.

The clean air and parks conservation groups that filed Friday’s challenges will be available to discuss the legal action on a telephone press conference today, December 18 at 11:45 AM ET/10:45 AM CT. Members of the press can join the call by dialing 877 783 4265 and using the passcode “HAZE.”

Speaker Call-In Time: 11:45 AM ET/10:45 AM CT (we will open up the line for speakers 15 minutes prior to the start of the press call to address any concerns)
Conference Starts: 11:00 AM ET/10:00 AM CT
Dial-In for Speakers on Conference: 877 783 4265 (this is the line specifically for speakers, reporters use a different number)
Passcode: HAZE (spoken to operator)
•    Elena Saxonhouse, Attorney with the Sierra Club -- Background on the past decade of Regional Haze Plan, how we got to this point
•    Stephanie Kodish, Attorney with National Parks Conservation Association --  Details of legal challenges filed on Friday 12/15/2017
•    John Hall, Associate VP for Clean Energy, Environmental Defense Fund -- What's at stake if we don't clean up pollution
•    Bill Cunningham, resident of Oklahoma who lives near the Wichita Mountains -- Love of Wichita Mountains, why clean air in parks is important to local economy

Read the release online

Read the legal document from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

Read the petition for reconsideration sent to the EPA

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Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.

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