Sierra Club applauds federal court decision on SO2 standards

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California approved an important legal framework that serves as a big step towards providing relief for thousands of communities across the country now suffering from dangerous sulfur dioxide air pollution. The road map imposes deadlines for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify areas that violate health standards for sulfur dioxide, which is emitted from coal burning plants and frequently cited by the medical community for instigating serious health conditions like bronchoconstriction and asthma attacks.

“This decision is a victory in the fight to protect the most vulnerable Americans from runaway air pollution,” said Zachary Fabish, Staff Attorney at the Sierra Club. “Major emitters of harmful sulfur dioxide, like the coal industry, must be held accountable for their pollution, and this helps ensure that they will be.”

Studies have shown connections between even very short-term exposure to sulfur dioxide air pollution and increased visits to emergency rooms and hospitals for respiratory illnesses–especially among vulnerable populations like children, seniors, and those with asthma. Chronic exposure is linked to respiratory disease, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and can aggravate existing heart disease, leading to increased hospital admissions and even premature death.

“Sulfur dioxide air pollution sends thousands of Americans to the emergency room with breathing problems every year, and it’s long overdue that EPA put a road map in place to clean it up,” said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Families – especially those caring for a loved one with respiratory problems – can breathe easier knowing that we are one step closer to cleaning up this dangerous coal plant pollution.”

The court’s decision approves a settlement with EPA in a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council under the federal Clean Air Act. The lawsuit cited analysis which estimates that potentially hundreds of counties across the country fail to meet this important public health measurement. When fully implemented, the health standard is expected to prevent 2,300-5,900 premature deaths and 54,000 asthma attacks annually, and save tens of billions of dollars from reduced hospital admissions, emergency room visits, work days lost due to illness, and cases of aggravated asthma and chronic bronchitis, among other benefits.

About Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters. In addition to helping people from all backgrounds explore nature and our outdoor heritage, 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