Court Decision to Impact Respiratory Health in Southern California

 This December, the U.S. Supreme Court will make a precedent-setting decision that will affect air quality, and  subsequently respiratory health in Southern California—and potentially the rest of the nation. PSR-LA and other public health organizations are taking legal action to ensure these health protections remain intact.

 

At stake is the ability of state and local agencies to set purchasing requirements for fleet vehicles. In 2000, the

South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) adopted six fleet rules, requiring public agencies in the

district to procure cleaner vehicles when replacing old or buying new ones. The rules apply to garbage trucks, airport shuttles, street sweepers, buses, and could impact purchasing guidelines for non-diesel school buses.

 

After the regulations were passed, SCAQMD was sued by two industry trade groups: the Western States Petroleum Association and the Engine Manufacturers Association. The groups filed suit under the pretense that the fleet

rules are pre-empted by the Clean Air Act, which bars states from setting emission standards that conflict with federal regulations. Unfortunately, the federal government recently joined the industry groups under direction from the Bush Administration. SCAQMD and numerous public health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (California Division), California Medical Association, PSR, American Lung Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Society of Occupational and Environmental Health maintain that these rules do not set new emission standards but are a matter of purchasing policy.

 

Public health organizations also strongly support the SCAQMD’s position in light of climbing rates of asthma

and diseases associated with exposure to diesel exhaust and outdoor air pollution. The SCAQMD’s Multiple Air Toxics Exposure Study (MATES II) found that diesel exhaust accounts for the wide majority of cancer risk in the south coast, more than 71 percent. Approximately 3 million people who live in California suffer from asthma; nearly 700,000 of them are children.

 

The U.S. District Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided in favor of SCAQMD’s right to require the

purchase of non-diesel technology fleet vehicles. However, if the Supreme Court sides with industry it will likely create a ripple effect causing state and local agencies to be prohibited from setting purchasing requirements for clean-technology vehicles.

 

So much for States Rights. PSR-LA and its public health allies await the Court’s decision in December.

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