EPA taking meaningful action on El Paso-area air quality

By David Baake
From the Fall 2022 newsletter

Every year, residents of El Paso, Texas, and neighboring areas in southern New Mexico are exposed to dangerous levels of ozone, a corrosive air pollutant that attacks the lungs and other parts of the body, contributing to respiratory problems, cardiovascular issues, and premature deaths.

The American Lung Association ranks El Paso-Las Cruces at No. 12 on a list of the most ozone-polluted metropolitan areas in the United States, worse than New York, Chicago, and Dallas–Fort Worth.

After years of litigation and advocacy spearheaded by the Sierra Club and local activists, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finally started to take meaningful action to reduce pollution in the region. Last year, the agency designated El Paso County as a “nonattainment” area for ozone, expanding an existing nonattainment area that included Sunland Park, NM, a small suburb of El Paso. The EPA’s designation initiates a process for reducing emissions from facilities in El Paso that contribute to the air-pollution problem.

Unfortunately, the State of Texas continues to expertly deploy every loophole in the Clean Air Act to try to avoid taking common-sense action to reduce pollution in El Paso. Earlier this year, it filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, arguing that EPA is moving too fast in trying to clean up pollution in El Paso, and asking the court to rule that the entire process must be delayed by three years. Sierra Club — represented by Las Cruces attorney David Baake and Joshua Smith of the Club’s Environmental Law Program — has intervened to support EPA in arguing against Texas’s meritless suit.

Texas is also seeking an exemption from the requirement to impose new emission controls on industrial sources, claiming (falsely) that these limits would not make a difference to local air quality because all of the regional pollution is caused by Mexico (the science, including expensive modeling that Texas itself prepared, shows otherwise).

Sierra Club prepared detailed comments urging EPA to deny Texas’s request for an exemption earlier this year. Much more needs to be done to clean up the air in the borderlands, but recent actions by EPA have been encouraging. We will continue to support EPA’s work and urge it to act with greater haste to protect public health in the borderlands.

Featured image from El Paso Matters. Click here to read more

EPA taking meaningful action on El Paso-area air quality