One year later, the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District has still not implemented major elements of its own plan to control particulate matter air pollution. In December 2003, the Air District adopted its first EPA-approved plan to meet the federal health-based standards for particulate matter more than a decade late. The plan was created only after community groups sued the EPA to enforce the original 1991 deadline.
EPA approved a plan that relies on nine key commitments to develop controls within one year of adopting the plan. Now, a year later, only two of those commitments have been honored.
Today, clean air advocates sent a 60-day notice of legal action, as required under the federal Clean Air Act, to seek full implementation of the plan.
Only two of the nine particulate matter controls were adopted on schedule. Of those, the agricultural pollution control plan, responsible for half of the reductions, falls short of providing real pollution reductions because it does not require any new control measures. Instead, farmers can simply take credit for what they have already been doing. Thus, the reductions are only on paper, and the air quality remains poor.
“Big Ag is still calling the shots at the air district,” said Fresno-native Kevin Hall with the Sierra Club. “The air district has taken existing farming practices and renamed them dust control measures. The district then takes credit for these phantom reductions. It’s a numbers game, not a plan to clean the air.”
Last fall, the Air District ignored two deadlines to adopt controls on commercial dryers and residential space heaters. In December 2004, the Air District missed five more deadlines to adopt controls on agricultural internal combustion engines, cotton gins, indirect sources (development), industrial heaters and boilers, and industrial water heaters.
“Public health should be the number one priority for the agency charged with regulating air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley. Unfortunately, we see the victims of the district’s inaction every day in the regions hospitals and clinics,” says Kevin Hamilton, a respiratory therapist representing the Fresno-based Medical Advocates for Healthy Air. “Valley residents are literally dying for clean air.”
“The San Joaquin Valley Air District has a tradition of inaction and delay,” says Susan Britton, Earthjustice attorney representing Medical Advocates for Health Air, Latino Issues Forum, and Sierra Club in today’s notice of intent to sue. “Thankfully, the federal Clean Air Act empowers the public to oversee languid agencies and to sue in the interest of protecting public health. That is exactly what the region’s clean air watchdogs intend to do.”
“It’s clear the Air District’s word is not enough, we need real action to implement the full plan,” says Rey León of Latino Issues Forum’s regional office in Fresno. “The pollution problem is too severe. It is not fair to burden families or the state with the unavoidable health costs industrial pollution creates. This agency needs to be stronger in doing the work for the public health of farm workers and other non-insured working families in the Valley.”
The recent failures undermine current efforts to reach the new and more protective federal public health standard for particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, the most deadly particles. The standard was proposed in 1997 after EPA reviewed hundreds of health studies. In December, EPA designated the San Joaquin Valley one of 224 regions that do not meet the standard. It must reach the standard by 2010.