Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 28, 2020


Robert Ukeiley, Center for Biological Diversity, (720) 496-8568,
Brian Willis, Sierra Club, 202.675.2386,
Caroline Cox, Center for Environmental Health, (541) 645-2626,

Lawsuit Launched to Fight Trump EPA’s Delay in Reducing Sulfur Dioxide Air Pollution

Legal Action Includes Areas of Missouri, Indiana, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Guam

WASHINGTON— Three conservation groups filed a formal notice today of their intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to ensure that parts of Missouri, Indiana, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and Guam have valid plans for cleaning up dangerous sulfur dioxide air pollution.

The EPA already determined that these areas, which are home to more than a million people, have sulfur dioxide pollution at levels high enough to trigger ecological harm and human health problems like asthma attacks.

“The Trump EPA’s failure to ensure clean air in these areas is made worse by the fact that they include many large minority populations at greater risk from COVID-19,” said Robert Ukeiley, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “When it’s equitably enforced, the Clean Air Act saves lives and promotes environmental justice by making sure everyone has clean air to breathe, regardless of their zip code. But it only works when the EPA does its job.”

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that the highest risk groups for COVID-19 include people with asthma. Studies have also shown that air pollution results in worse outcomes for people who have COVID-19 and similar diseases.

The majority of the people living in many of the cities and counties targeted in today’s legal action are members of minority and indigenous populations that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and air pollution.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to identify and set national ambient air-quality standards to protect people and the environment from pollutants like sulfur oxides, which are produced from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil.

Once the EPA determines an area’s air pollution exceeds the national standard, the law provides deadlines for the agency to ensure that states and U.S. territories have valid plans in place to clean up that pollution. In this case the EPA has missed those deadlines by anywhere from two months to more than 4 years.

“Yet again, the Trump administration is putting the interests of polluters above public health,” said Zachary Fabish, a Sierra Club attorney. “The law requires the EPA to take concrete steps to improve the health of kids and families in some of our most vulnerable communities and the Trump administration is turning a blind eye.”

Measured as sulfur dioxide, sulfur pollution causes a range of public health and environmental problems. Sulfur oxides contribute to heart and lung diseases and are particularly threatening to children and the elderly. The EPA’s updated scientific studies show a link between sulfur oxide pollution and developmental harm to children. Sulfur oxides also contribute to acid rain and haze, damaging lakes, streams and ecosystems throughout the United States and decreasing visibility in national parks.

The areas where the EPA has failed to make sure air-pollution plans are in place include parts of Jackson County, Missouri, and Evangeline Parish, Louisiana; Huntington, Indiana; Piti-Cabras, Guam; and San Juan and Guayama-Salinas in Puerto Rico.

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.

The Sierra Club is a grassroots environmental organization with more than 3 million members and supporters working to safeguard the health of communities, protect wildlife, and preserve wild places through public education, lobbying, and litigation.

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