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  • June 2nd, 2015

    EPA Allowed by Court to Turn Back on Dangerous Smog Levels, Giving Fracking Industry Free Rein to Pollute

    For Immediate Release: June 2, 2015

    Washington, D.C. – A federal court ruling today denied clean air for Utah’s Uinta Basin, allowing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to sacrifice public health for the oil and gas industry.

    “Instead of requiring the EPA to adhere to its mission of protecting public health, the court has allowed the agency to evade their responsibility through essentially a trivial technicality,” said Dr. Brian Moench of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “The Uinta Basin already has documented abnormal spikes in infant deaths. While this ruling is a disappointment to us, it is a serious setback to protecting the thousands of Basin residents, including children and pregnant mothers, from some of the worst air pollution in the nation.”

    Utah’s Uinta Basin has for several years now been experiencing dangerously high levels of ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog. Ozone pollution in the Uinta Basin rivals that found in Los Angeles and Houston. Ozone levels well-above federal health standards have been recorded throughout the region.

    Studies have confirmed that oil and gas development is a key culprit for the region’s unhealthy air. More than 11,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled in the region. A recent study published in the journal, Environmental Science and Technology, reported that total ozone forming pollution from oil and gas operations in the region equals the amount released by 100 million passenger vehicles.

    “Out of control fracking is taking a terrible toll on clean air in Utah,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Sadly, today’s court ruling lets the oil and gas industry continue to put its profits before public health.”

    In spite of monitoring data showing the Uinta Basin is violating federal health limits for ozone, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 declined to order a clean up. Instead, the agency declared that air quality in the region was “unclassifiable,” meaning that the Clean Air Act’s mandatory requirements for improving air quality would not apply in the Uinta Basin.

    In 2013, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, WildEarth Guardians, and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed suit to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to declare the Uinta Basin’s air quality to be unhealthy and take steps to restore clean air. Represented by Earthjustice, the groups called on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s unclassifiable designation.

    In a ruling today, the court rejected the suit, upholding the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision.

    “Today’s ruling is unfortunate news for the people living and working in the Uinta Basin who must continue to breathe unhealthy air,” said Robin Cooley, attorney for Earthjustice who argued the case. “The Environmental Protection Agency knows the air is unhealthy, and we will continue to hold their feet to the fire until they take the steps necessary to protect public health. Given the rampant oil and gas development in the Uinta Basin, there is no time to waste.”

    The court’s ruling comes even as monitoring continues to confirm the Uinta Basin’s sickening smog levels. In early 2014, public health and environmental groups again called on the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the region’s smog.

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    For More Information Contact:

    Dr. Brian Moench, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, (801) 243-9089, drmoench@yahoo.com

    Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org

    David Garbett, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3992, david@suwa.org

    Robin Cooley, Earthjustice, (303) 263-2472, rcooley@earthjustice.org

     

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