Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 27, 2020


Robert Ukeiley, Center for Biological Diversity, (720) 496-8568,
Caroline Cox, Center for Environmental Health, (541) 645-2626,

Lawsuit Challenges Trump EPA’s Attempt to Blame Mexico for Smog in California’s Imperial County

IMPERIAL COUNTY, Calif.— Conservation groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency today for failing to require reductions of dangerous smog pollution in California’s Imperial County, which is home to almost 200,000 people.

The lawsuit calls for the EPA to fulfill its duty to enforce U.S. clean-air standards in the county instead of falsely asserting Mexico is to blame for the region’s dangerous smog pollution.

“Falsely blaming Mexico for Imperial County’s smog problem is a classic page out of the Trump administration playbook,” said Robert Ukeiley, an environmental health attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re going to court to make sure the Trump EPA doesn’t recklessly put thousands of Californians at greater risk of serious health problems and premature death.”

Numerous emission-reduction opportunities exist in Imperial County that, if implemented, could create livable-wage jobs at the same time as addressing the deadly air-pollution problem. For example, EPA action could shift the county from powering its farm equipment with dirty diesel engines to pollution-free solar panels.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

It seeks to overturn the EPA’s decision that due to emissions emanating from Mexico, Imperial County is not subject to making further emission reductions to come into compliance with the national ambient air standard for smog.

People exposed to excess ground-level ozone, the principle pollutant in smog, can experience reduced lung function and increased respiratory problems like asthma attacks, causing increased visits to emergency rooms and even premature death.

Several studies have shown that air pollution also increases the risk of death from COVID-19. One very recent study determined that high smog levels contributed to the extremely high numbers of COVID-19 deaths in northern Italy.

“The global pandemic re-emphasizes the need for actual pollution reductions in Imperial County rather than Trump’s EPA doing nothing and blaming Mexico,” said Caroline Cox, a senior scientist at the Center for Environmental Health. “Blaming Mexico won’t save lives but reducing air pollution will.”

An EPA study in 2015 estimated that Clean Air Act programs that reduce ozone pollution would prevent more than 3,180 premature deaths and 390,000 asthma attacks in children alone. The agency also estimates that the net economic benefit of fully implementing the 2015 ozone emissions limit — the current standard — would be as much as $4.5 billion.

Beyond the human health concerns, ozone pollution also harms wildlife and plants, both naturally occurring and commercial crops. Ozone hurts forests by increasing forest fires, disease and insect infestations. Sensitive species at risk from ozone exposure include cottonwood trees and Blazing Star flowers.

The environmental groups are represented by Steve Odendahl of Air Law for All, Ltd.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Center for Environmental Health works with parents, communities, businesses, workers, and government to protect children and families from toxic chemicals in homes, workplaces, schools and neighborhoods.

center locations