In a settlement with community, public health, and environmental groups concerned about air pollution in the Central Valley, the US Environmental Protection Agency agreed to better regulate air pollution from diesel irrigation pump engines in California.
The settlement follows a lawsuit filed in May 2003 after the Bush administration issued permit applications to agricultural sources of air pollution in California requesting that they "estimate" their own "actual" emissions from diesel irrigation pump engines in order to determine whether they needed a permit. The Clean Air Act, however, does not allow sources to guess what their own emissions are likely to be. The law requires sources to be regulated on the basis of their "potential to emit." The coalition of groups called EPA's shortcut "regulating with a wink and a nod," basically tempting farmers to underestimate their own emissions so that they could avoid applying for permits. By the May 1, 2003, deadline, EPA had received only 18 applications for permits, a much lower number than expected due to the overly lax guidance accompanying the permit applications.
Clean air activists sued EPA, knowing that the agency would be unable to defend its approach in court.
According to the settlement agreement, EPA will withdraw the previous guidance, issue new permit applications regulating sources based on the "potential to emit" standard for diesel engines, and set a new date of November 13, 2003, to collect applications from sources.