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Environmental Integrity Project and Sierra Club Announce Plans to Sue EPA Unless It Revises Outdated Nitric Acid Plant Standard

October 6, 2008

SOUTH ROYALTON, VT – Today, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and the Sierra Club are putting the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on notice that they intend to sue the agency for violating its duty to review and update its new source performance standard (NSPS) for nitric acid plants at least once every eight years, as required under the Clean Air Act. The two parties are represented by the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC) at Vermont Law School.

If EPA does not commence a review during the required 60-day notice period, the parties will seek a court order compelling EPA to review its standards for controlling nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from nitric acid plants. The NOx standard has not been revised since it was adopted in 1971, and the last review took place twenty-four years ago, in 1984. This means EPA has missed its deadline by a full sixteen years.

Better technologies, capable of substantially reducing NOx emissions, have emerged during EPA’s long period of delay. In fact, EPA issued a report in 1991 describing some of these technologies, yet it has failed to apply these findings to the nitric acid industry.

Teresa Clemmer for ENRLC commented, “This is yet another example of regulatory foot-dragging that has become so commonplace at the EPA. Much more effective and affordable technologies have been available for many years, and EPA should get started updating its regulation without any further delay.”

Using outdated technologies has real world consequences. NOx—a precursor to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ground-level ozone—is an important public health concern. According to David Bookbinder at the Sierra Club, “EPA is well aware that PM2.5 is causally linked with heart disease, asthma, and lung cancer. Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, children, and asthmatics, face the greatest risk. EPA must do a better job of protecting the public from the serious health threats posed by NOx emissions.”

In addition to compelling EPA to update its NOx emission standard, EIP and Sierra Club want EPA to start controlling nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from nitric acid plants. N2O is a powerful greenhouse gas. It is 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its global warming potential. Nitric acid plants are, by far, the largest industrial source of N2O emissions in the United States, and these emissions would be surprisingly easy to control. As Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project explained, “There are literally dozens of cheap, effective technologies already out there right now, just sitting on the shelf, that control N2O emissions. Reducing N2O emissions from nitric acid plants would be one of the easiest possible first steps for EPA to take in addressing the climate crisis.”

EIP and the Sierra Club believe EPA should move quickly to review and revise the NSPS for nitric acid plants. Take Louisiana, for instance, which has several nitric acid plants. Many citizens of Louisiana are suffering health problems relating to NOx emissions, and the state has been ravaged by climate change. Why isn’t EPA acting now?

Diane Derby
Director of Media Relations