California Farm Bureau Seeks to Revive Air Pollution Exemption, Again

Medical, community, environmental groups file motions to defend EPA rule


Anne Harper, Earthjustice: 510-550-6725


Brent Newell, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment: 661-586-3724

A coalition of medical, environmental, and community groups filed papers in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today requesting intervenor status to help defend, for a second time, the decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate air pollution from large agricultural operations in California. After the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the California Farm Bureau’s previous challenge to EPA’s elimination of a loophole permitting big agriculture to escape air pollution regulation, the California Farm Bureau has renewed its battle to regain its illegal exemption.

“Big Ag’s been getting a free ride on air pollution but the public health costs being borne by the valley’s 3 million residents are staggering,” said Kevin Hall of the Tehipite Chapter of the Sierra Club. 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 on October 17, 2002 by the California Farm Bureau in an attempt to resurrect a loophole from Clean Air Act permitting requirements that big agriculture has enjoyed since 1976.

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 EPA settled the three consolidated lawsuits and brought an end to California’s agricultural exemption by agreeing to regulate major sources of agricultural air pollution. The Farm Bureau filed suit in July challenging the settlement agreement and EPA’s notification to the State of California that the agricultural exemption was in violation of the Clean Air Act. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco dismissed the Farm Bureau’s case on October 10, 2002.

The EPA withdrew its approval of California’s Title V program in a Final Rule published on October 15, 2002 and at the same time announced that it would create a federal permitting program for agricultural sources. The Farm Bureau again filed suit on October 17, 2002.

“The Farm Bureau just does not get it,” said Brent Newell, an attorney with the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “Air pollution has caused a public health crisis and these people want to keep polluting. The public bears enormous health costs from air pollution while the Farm Bureau disingenuously calls for more studies and files lawsuit after lawsuit to delay regulation.”

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. “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.

The request for intervention was filed was by the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment (representing the Association of Irritated Residents and Communities for Land, Air and Water), and Earthjustice (representing Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club) and the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic (representing Communities for a Better Environment and Our Children’s Earth Foundation).

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.