Sierra Club, Environmental Coalition Slams Industrial Polluters, Files Brief Defending EPA’s Closure of SSM Loopholes

Coalition files brief with DC Circuit Court of Appeals touting public health benefits of closure, EPA authority under the Clean Air Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. –(ENEWSPF)–August 30, 2016.   The Sierra Club, a coalition of environmental organizations, and grassroots environmental justice groups filed a brief today with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, defending the EPA’s decision to close dangerous loopholes that allow industrial facilities to emit massive amounts of pollution during their startups, shutdowns, and malfunctions (SSM). For decades, the SSM loopholes have been decried by public health and environmental justice organizations as an irresponsible and dangerous giveaway to polluters that threaten the health of vulnerable fenceline communities, which are frequently low-income and communities of color. Industrial polluters and their political allies challenged the EPA’s decision shortly after it was finalized.

“The right to breathe clean air shouldn’t come with an asterisk that says, ‘as long as you don’t live in a community near a refinery or power plant.’ It’s as essential to our health as the right to drink clean water, and that’s why we are defending the EPA’s common sense decision to close these dangerous loopholes,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign. “Pollution is pollution, and a child’s lungs don’t get a free pass if it came from a power plant that was malfunctioning, so the polluters shouldn’t get one, either. Defending this decision is about defending basic fairness, especially in low-income communities and communities of color that are hit hardest by air pollution. For too long, fossil fuel companies used these loopholes as a handy excuse to contaminate communities, but they must always be held accountable for the pollution they spew into our air, no matter the circumstances.”

Some facilities, such as coal plants and oil refineries, have been known to release more pollution during SSM episodes than they emitted during normal operations throughout the entire year. This presents high pollution concentrations over a short time span and major health risks to vulnerable area residents, including people with asthma, children, and seniors that venture outside for daily activities. The EPA closed SSM loopholes last year by requiring 36 states to revise provisions in their policies that exempt SSM events from Clean Air Act protections and allow polluters to avoid responsibility for repeated violations.

“The EPA has a clear obligation under the Clean Air Act to close these SSM loopholes that eviscerate the law’s most fundamental public health protections,” said Andrea Issod, a senior attorney at Sierra Club. “Closing these loopholes, and keeping them closed, will protect some of society’s most vulnerable communities from big polluters, which reflects years of hard work from community and environmental groups, and legal advocates across the country. We are confident it will withstand this challenge and that the public will reap its great benefits.”

The coalition filing the brief includes the Sierra Club, Citizens for Environmental Justice, People Against Neighborhood Industrial Contamination (PANIC), Natural Resources Defense Council, and Environmental Integrity Project. Challengers are expected to respond with their own brief by September 26 and then the case will enter into oral argument.

Related Material:

Click Here to Download the Legal Brief

Click Here to Download the Legal Brief’s Addendum

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. For more information, visit






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