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Lawsuit says EPA failed to enforce its Haze Rule

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A coalition of environmental organizations filed a federal lawsuit in California last week against the Environmental Protection Agency alleging it has failed to enforce the Regional Haze Rule as required by the Clean Air Act.

A news release issued by the Sierra Club said states have yet to submit plans to reduce air pollution in our country’s most iconic national parks and wilderness areas, and return natural visibility to these wild places. The EPA amended the Regional Haze Rule in 2017, giving states until July 31, 2021, to complete their plans, which the Sierra Club said has given states and owners of major polluting facilities ample time to prepare for compliance.

To date, according to the lawsuit, 34 states, including Arkansas, have yet to submit a Regional Haze state implementation plan. The release said at least 16 facilities in Arkansas, including the SWEPCO Flint coal-burning plant, contribute to haze in federal parks, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in the Northern District of California, urges the EPA to fulfill its obligation under the Clean Air Act, lock in retirement dates for coal plants and require big polluters to reduce emissions to clear up haze and improve public health. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, Environmental Defense Fund and the Center for Biological Diversity. Defendants are the EPA and EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

Sierra Club said haze impacts 90% of the country’s national parks and harms public health, particularly in communities targeted by generations of systemic racism. It said air pollution from burning fossil fuels and other sources worsens community health, drives up health-care costs and has a detrimental effect on children and adults.

Uta Meyer, executive committee member for the Sierra Club Arkansas Chapter, said that in Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson failed to submit a pollution reduction plan to the EPA despite being given a three-year extension.

“It appears action will not happen without the intervention of the EPA,” Meyer said in the release. “Our social systems were built to benefit white people, and racial discrimination has made it possible for politicians and polluters to ignore or undervalue certain groups–namely communities of color–time and time again.”

Meyer said to correct the situation in Arkansas, Regan must enforce federal laws that “protect people from the disproportionate impact of soot and smog that is generated by burning fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil.”