This past July, a coalition of medical, community, and environmental groups announced their intent to sue the Air District for its failure to implement the very controls it promised to implement in a 1994 ozone pollution control plan. The lawsuit is brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Fresno-based Medical Alliance for Healthy Air, Latino Issues Forum, and the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. The Sierra Club is represented by Sierra Club counsel.
"This is a victory for everyone who breathes in the San Joaquin Valley and the Sierra Nevada Mountains," said Bruce Nilles an attorney with Earthjustice who represents the coalition. "We are pleased with this outcome because it will eliminate more than 6 tons per day of pollution." Nilles cautioned, "But, this is just the beginning. The District must reduce ozone pollution by 300 tons per day over the next four years to meet the federal ozone standard."
The community and medical groups were poised to sue the Air District to compel it to adopt and enforce six ozone pollution control measures. The Air District had promised to enact these measures to reduce ozone pollution by 6.5 tons per day by 1998, but it never took action on any of these measures. A proposed court order now binds the Air District to adopt four of these rules -- regulating architectural coatings, organic liquid storage, and organic solvent disposal, and commercial charbroiling -- by the end of this year. It also requires the Air District to replace the other two rules with new, more effective pollution-control measures within six months. The settlement was lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Fresno and requires Court approval before it becomes final.
"Breathing in the San Joaquin Valley continues to be hazardous to your health. Most other areas in the country, including Los Angeles, have shown at least modest improvement in controlling ozone and particulate matter pollution, but the San Joaquin Valley is on track to become the most ozone-polluted region in the United States," said Dr. David Pepper of the Medical Alliance for Healthy Air.
"Each year, we see more children and elderly people in the emergency room because of air pollution. It's a sad situation that can be addressed with a little political backbone. Today, the Air District is taking an important first step in the right direction."
On May 1, 2001, the American Lung Association released a report showing that three of the four most ozone-polluted cities in the nation are situated in the San Joaquin Valley. Breathing is more dangerous in Bakersfield, Fresno, and the Visalia-Tulare-Porterville area than in any other place in the nation except Los Angeles. In 2000, the San Joaquin Valley exceeded the health-based 1-hour ozone standard 30 times. In Los Angeles, the standard was violated on 33 days. Currently, the Air District is preparing a new plan to clean up ozone pollution with more stringent controls on many sources.
Kevin Hall, with the Fresno Chapter of the Sierra Club, noted, "This is a positive move by the Air District. But we will continue to monitor them carefully to ensure their continued compliance with federal law. In the upcoming months, the Air District will be working on several other important aspects of air quality planning, including developing a new Ozone Attainment Plan and adopting an important rule to control fugitive dust emissions."
Enrique Gallardo, Senior Program Manager for Latino Issues Forum remarked, "This is only the beginning of a long process. There is still a lot more that needs to be done before all Valley residents will be breathing healthy air, and we will be vigilant in overseeing the Air District's actions to ensure that they continue making progress towards the goal of cleaning up the Valley's dirty air."
Brent Newell, attorney for the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment, observed, "This settlement is important. It shows a new resolve in the Air District to take a more active approach to protecting the public's health. These six rules are only the tip of the iceberg, though. In addition, the Air District needs to substantially reduce the emission of particulate matter from agricultural and industry sources to meet the federal particulate matter standards."