Dr. Ruiz Calls for Transparency from EPA for Environmental Justice Communities During COVID-19

May 27, 2020
Press Release

Washington, DC – Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D-CA) is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to release important data on air quality monitoring during the COVID-19 pandemic. Joining a bicameral letter pointing to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities experiencing environmental injustices, Rep. Ruiz, and other members of the House and Senate, called for the release of key data to help the public understand the public health risks certain communities face. Dr. Ruiz is the Vice-Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee.

“EPA’s job is to protect the air we breathe, and that job could not be more important than during a global pandemic,” Dr. Ruiz and the members wrote. “We are requesting this data showing that the agency is taking the necessary steps to combat both air pollution and its impact on human health.”

The letter calls on EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to release detailed information on EPA air quality monitoring during the coronavirus pandemic. The letter also requests the release of what actions – if any – the EPA plans to take to protect communities with unhealthy air quality during the pandemic.

You can read a copy of the letter below or here.

Background:

Harvard University released a study detailing the disproportionate and cumulative impacts pollution has on low income communities and communities of color, who are experiencing staggering rates of mortality from COVID-19 and often lack access to health care.

Following the release of this report, Dr. Ruiz joined fellow members of Congress in calling for EPA’s immediate action to secure clean air protections for communities experiencing environmental injustices.

Continuing his environmental justice advocacy in the wake for the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Ruiz also introduced H.R.6692, the Environmental Justice COVID-19 Act. This bicameral legislation would provide $50 million for environmental justice grant programs to monitor pollution and investigate COVID-19’s impact in environmental justice communities. The bill was included in H.R. 6800, the Heroes Act, which passed the House on May 15.

 

Letter Copy: 

Dear Administrator Wheeler: 

We are writing to request specific information on how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is collecting air pollution data during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like our constituents and families across the country, we are deeply concerned over growing evidence that high levels of air pollution are significantly exacerbating certain pre-existing conditions that result in COVID-19 complications, and that long-term exposure to air pollution is a large contributing factor to an increase in fatalities. Furthermore, this pandemic is shining a light on the disproportionate and cumulative impacts pollution has on low income and communities of color, who are experiencing staggering rates of mortality from COVID-19 and often lack access to healthcare. 

Due to these concerns, it is critical that the EPA do everything it can to ensure that all air- monitoring networks and air monitors are operating. Data generated from these monitors is critical to informing public health protections in general and especially during a global health pandemic. 

In order to understand how EPA is guaranteeing the public has the information they need to understand what public health risks they face, we request information from EPA regarding

  1. Whether any air monitors operated or overseen by EPA or used for determining NAAQS or other Clean Air Act compliance are currently shut off, broken, in need of maintenance, inoperable, or otherwise not making air monitoring results available. This includes any air toxics monitors, or any ambient air quality monitors used for NAAQS compliance. If any such air monitors are shut off, broken, in need of maintenance, inoperable, or if monitoring results for any such monitors are not otherwise available, please provide timetables and EPA’s plans for restoring them.
  2. Whether any air toxics monitors or ambient air quality monitors used for NAAQS compliance were offline or shut down for any period of time since January 31, 2020, the day the Secretary of Health and Human Services declared COVID-19 a public health emergency. If they were shut down, please detail the specific dates these monitors were not operated and whether they are now operational.
  3. Whether EPA has plans this calendar year (2020) to increase the number of ambient or fenceline air toxics monitors or ambient air quality monitors used for NAAQS compliance and where these monitors will be located.
  4. Whether EPA has plans this calendar year (2020) to implement fenceline monitoring near any sources of ethylene oxide, and if so where.
  5. What actions, if any, EPA plans to take to protect communities where an air monitor shows unhealthy air during the pandemic. 

EPA’s job is to protect the air we breathe, and that job could not be more important than during a global health pandemic. As a result, we are requesting data showing that the agency is taking the necessary steps to combat both air pollution and its impacts on human health. 

Please provide answers to these questions and records responsive to this request by May 29, 2020. If you have any questions, please feel free to have your staff reach out to Sara Jordan (Sara.Jordan@mail.house.gov) or Radha Adhar (Radha_Adhar@duckworth.senate.gov). 

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

 

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