Same Old Story: EPA Turning a Blind Eye to San Joaquin Valley's Pollution Problems
"Affirmation" of clean air called a sham by health advocates
Sarah Jackson/Paul Cort, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6725
Kevin Hall, Sierra Club, (559) 244-1842
Kevin Hamilton, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, (559) 288-5244
At 4:59 pm last Friday and with no fanfare, EPA Region IX released a long-awaited and highly-contested decision to declare that the particulate matter pollution (i.e., the dust, soot, and smoke that frequently turn the skies brown in the fall and winter) in the valley is no longer a concern for residents or lawmakers despite numerous violations of the air quality standard.
EPA first proposed to sweep the valley’s dust problems under the rug back in the summer of 2006, when it made an initial finding that the valley had attained the national standard for particulate matter so long as dangerous levels of pollution recorded by certain air quality monitors could be ignored.
But even as lawmakers were popping the champagne corks, the valley experienced one of its worst pollution seasons on record with a slew of additional air quality violations. Yet EPA chose to ignore this evidence, too. The agency refused to take back its original determination that the valley’s air was clean, so Earthjustice and valley residents were forced to go to court to reverse that illegal action.
EPA’s unprecedented "affirmation" of its 2006 attainment finding for the Valley flies in the face of clear evidence that the valley’s air is still a danger to public health.
"It’s unthinkable to me that the Regional Administrator can say to the people of Arvin or Fresno or any other city in this polluted valley, ‘you are a priority for us,’ while his agency is throwing in the towel," says Kevin Hall, long-time Fresno resident and Air Quality Chair of the Sierra Club’s Tehipite Chapter. "EPA has a long history of neglect in this valley, and once again, they’re ignoring our suffering to protect polluters."
Earthjustice and other concerned groups are reviewing EPA’s decision and plan to take the agency back to court for choosing to ignore the valley’s continuing pollution problems.
"EPA is telling people not to worry about dozens of violation days, the most recent one occurring just two months ago," says Earthjustice air quality researcher Sarah Jackson. "This is not about the air being clean or residents being able to breathe easier; this is all about EPA keeping promises to polluters and gaming the data to try and make the problem go away."
"When I stop seeing valley residents in the ER gasping for breath, then I’ll pop the champagne," says respiratory therapist and Fresno resident Kevin Hamilton. "Until then, we’ll see EPA in court."
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