EL PASO, TX -- Late last week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated its ozone designation of El Paso, Texas, to nonattainment, indicating that the region does not meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards for this dangerous air pollutant. The American Lung Association ranks El Paso 13th on its list of the most smog-polluted metropolitan areas in the United States, worse than New York, Chicago, and Dallas-Fort Worth, while the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s own data shows that pollution levels continue to violate the federal public-health standard. The EPA’s action is the result of litigation brought by the Sierra Club and Familias Unidas del Chamizal, a local environmental justice group, which resulted in a court decision overturning the Trump Administration’s illegal decision to list El Paso as complying with the ozone standard despite evidence of unsafe pollution levels.
Hillda Villegas, a member of Familias Unidas del Chamizal, applauded EPA’s action and called on regulators to pay attention to the needs of environmental justice communities going forward: “Air pollution disproportionately hurts marginalized communities. The Chamizal neighborhood, which is predominantly low-income and Hispanic, experiences some of the worst air pollution in El Paso. Our kids have trouble breathing when they go outside to exercise. People get respiratory infections and have to call in sick at work. This EPA designation should be a wake-up call for our community leaders to fight for clean air and a more sustainable future.”
Miguel Escoto, West Texas Field Advocate for Earthworks, said that researchers at New York University and the American Thoracic Society have shown that ozone pollution is a major health problem in El Paso: “The research shows that ozone pollution causes about18 premature deaths, 53 emergency-room visits, and almost 60,000 missed work or school days each year in our region. It is unacceptable that we continue to sicken our communities with this pollution. It’s time to phase out fossil fuels and embrace clean alternatives, like solar power, public transportation, and electric vehicles.”
Joshua Smith, staff attorney with the Sierra Club Environmental Law Program, said, “This designation will pave the way for cleaner air, and provide us with a stronger legal hook for fighting further gas and dirty fuels expansion in and around El Paso. This victory would not have been possible without dedicated and passionate activists and advocates across Texas and New Mexico. Now, we need the existing sources of pollution--such as Marathon’s El Paso oil refinery--to clean up their act.”
More than 1,300 people submitted comments to the EPA in support of swiftly adopting these standards, and today’s ruling will hold polluters accountable to clean up smog and ozone pollution impacting residents across west Texas, southern New Mexico, and across the US/Mexico border. Tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks are the largest source of ozone precursor pollution, while the Marathon refinery in south El Paso, El Paso Electric’s methane gas plants, and other industrial sources also contribute to the problem.
About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.
Earthworks is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the adverse impacts of mineral and energy development while promoting sustainable solutions. Earthworks stands for clean air, water and land, healthy communities, and corporate accountability. For more information, visit www.earthworks.org
About Familias Unidas del Chamizal
Familias Unidas del Chamizal is working to organize families in the Barrio Chamizal, to develop a community that can defend itself and where residents can work together to solve major problems they face. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/comitedefamiliasunidas/