Chemical plants can emit large amounts of air pollutants over short time periods.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—NELC has joined dozens of environmental and public health groups in calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to treat short-lived but extreme breaches of federal air pollution control laws as “high priority violations.”

In a revision to the EPA’s enforcement policy announced on Aug. 25, 2015, illegal emissions of hazardous pollutants will no longer be considered high priority unless the violations continue for at least seven days. However, as NELC’s recent Clean Air Act suits have shown, repeated illegal releases of dangerous pollutants in short, intense bursts are a serious problem.

The communities most likely to be affected by these extreme air pollution events are low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, and many include large numbers of children and elderly residents, who are most sensitive to respiratory ailments triggered by air pollution.

In an Oct. 16, 2015, letter drafted by Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project, NELC joined Environment Texas, Sierra Club, and groups from across the nation in calling on the EPA to reclassify short term violations that release an unusually large volume of dangerous pollutants or that occur frequently enough to cause emissions to exceed annual limits as a high priority.

“Citizen enforcement suits are an incredibly powerful and important enforcement tool, but we can’t do it all,” said NELC Senior Attorney Josh Kratka. “The EPA needs to join us in focusing on these significant violators.”