California Farm Bureau Seeks Air Pollution Exemption

Medical, Community, Environmental Groups Seek to Defend EPA Rule


Anne Harper, Earthjustice: 510-550-6725

A coalition of medical, environmental, and community groups filed papers in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today asking for intervenor status to help defend a decision by the US Environmental Protection Agency to regulate air pollution from large agricultural operations in California. The Central Valley of California has three of the nation’s four metropolitan areas with the worst ozone pollution: Fresno, Bakersfield, and Visalia-Tulare-Porterville.

The rule was challenged in July 22, 2002 by the California Farm Bureau Federation in an attempt to resurrect a loophole provided by the California State Legislature from Clean Air Act permitting requirements that big agriculture has enjoyed since 1976.

The request for intervention was filed was by Earthjustice and the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic on behalf of a coalition of groups including: the Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Our Children’s Earth Foundation and Communities for a Better Environment.

On November 30, 2001, the EPA approved California’s permitting programs for major sources of air pollution, known as Title V under the Clean Air Act, which contained an illegal exemption for agricultural sources. In January 2002, the same coalition of community, health, and environmental groups went to court to bring California agriculture under the same permitting requirements as those faced by every other industry in the state. In May 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency settled three consolidated lawsuits and brought an end to California’s agricultural exemption by agreeing to regulate major sources of agricultural air pollution.

In the settlement, the EPA agreed to find that California was not properly implementing the permitting requirements of the Clean Air Act and proposed to withdraw its approval of California’s Title V program. Agriculture has been shielded from state regulation by a provision of state law that prohibits local air districts from requiring permits for “any equipment used in agricultural operations in the growing of crops or the raising of fowl or animals.”

“Giant factory farms represent one of the largest sources of air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley, said Anne Harper, an attorney with Earthjustice who is representing the coalition. “Major sources of air pollution must be regulated as such. Every sector must do its part to help clean the air in a region so polluted that public health officials have reported alarming increases in asthma and other respiratory problems.”

Agricultural pollution comes from diesel irrigation pumps, farming equipment, livestock waste from giant dairy, poultry, and beef factory farms as well as pesticide application and dust kicked up from fields and unpaved roads.

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