Clean air advocates in the San Joaquin Valley of California are taking action to reverse a finding that the region cleared the air of dangerous particulate matter pollution. Advocates say the Environmental Protection Agency reached its finding by sweeping key data under the rug.
On October 30, 2006, EPA declared that the San Joaquin Valley had attained the national air quality standards for particulate matter pollution (PM-10), i.e., tiny particles of dust, soot, and chemicals that can obscure visibility and be inhaled deep in the lungs. PM-10 is a known killer that can cause lung and heart ailments. In a region where this type of pollution kills more that 1800 residents a year (http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/aaqs/std-rs/std-rs.htm) clean air advocates question EPA’s decision to end requirements that the local air district keep working to eliminate this threat.
The groups have now presented EPA with data that contradicts the regional air district’s and EPA’s claims of victory over particulate pollution.
“It’s astounding the lengths to which our public health agencies are going to protect this bad decision,” says Kevin Hamilton of Medical Advocates for Healthy Air. “EPA said they’d withdraw it if there were more violations — we’re just asking them to keep their word. They need to stand up and protect the public health in our Valley.”
To be declared in attainment with the public health standards, the Valley is required to go three years without violating the pollution limit more than once a year. Last fall, southern portions of the Valley violated the limit more than two dozen times — more than twice as many as in any other year for the past 14 years.
Clean air advocates assert that EPA ignored dirty data from numerous days at numerous air monitors last fall when it made its attainment finding in October. EPA is trying to blame the area’s bad air quality on winds in the Sacramento Valley but has provided no reliable evidence to support that claim. In fact, former National Weather Service forecaster and expert forensic meteorologist Jan Null says that the days in question were “complete non-events” and “were not windy by any stretch of the imagination.”
Advocates believe the premature clean air declaration was intended to avoid a court-ordered deadline in which EPA was required to impose a federal clean air plan on the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District by October 18, 2006. By determining that the air was clean, EPA avoided this work burden. Advocates say EPA’s finding sends the wrong message to regulated industries and Valley citizens whose health remains imperiled by unacceptable levels of PM-10.
“EPA is contorting its own policies to avoid doing its job,” said Sarah Jackson, air specialist with Earthjustice. “There are no more ‘get out of jail free’ cards for an agency with more than three decades of missed deadlines and botched plans. The residents of the San Joaquin Valley deserve real progress, not agency politics.”
In a formal “petition for withdrawal” submitted today, air advocates claimed:
In spite of EPA’s regulatory acrobatics, the fact is that the Valley was not in attainment as of the date of the Finding, and it is not in attainment today. Since EPA published its proposed Attainment Finding, Valley monitoring sites using methodology subject to all quality assurance and quality control requirements, have recorded 26 PM-10 exceedance days.
Earthjustice represents Latino Issues Forum, Medical Advocates for Health Air, and three valley Sierra Club chapters in this action. In addition to a full withdrawal of the attainment finding, they are asking EPA to reinstate the contingency measures and other Clean Air Act requirements it suspended when it made that erroneous finding.
Read the “Petition for Withdrawal” (PDF)