Groups Put Feds on Notice Over San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution

Weak regulation of industrial polluters targeted


Paul Cort, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6700

Today, the Sierra Club and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air warned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that they will go to court if the EPA does not take required steps to clean up major industrial air pollution sources in the San Joaquin Valley. The groups filed a notice of intent to sue letter to force the Environmental Protection Agency and the San Joaquin Valley Air District to adopt meaningful rules and plans to address ozone pollution in the San Joaquin Valley. The EPA rejected a weak Air District pollution plan more than a year ago and has failed to approve a new plan as required by the Clean Air Act.

Ozone is a main component of ground-level pollution known as “smog.” The San Joaquin Valley in California is consistently ranked as one of the most ozone-polluted regions in the country. Bakersfield, Visalia, and Fresno are ranked in the American Lung Association’s top five most ozone-polluted cities in America, with Bakersfield and Los Angeles alternating year-to-year for the top spot. Ozone is known to damage lungs, worsen asthma, reduce lung capacity, trigger respiratory-related hospital admissions and increase premature deaths. The health impacts are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable—children, the elderly, and persons already suffering from respiratory ailments.

“While these federal and local agencies drag their feet, the people of the San Joaquin Valley are forced to breathe some of the worst air in California,” said Earthjustice attorney Paul Cort. “Nearly one in five children in the Valley already suffers from asthma, a rate double the national average. In spite of this ongoing health crisis, the agencies responsible for addressing the cause have a long history of missed deadlines and weak regulations. Now we must push these agencies to adopt the required controls and approve meaningful plans that will actually result in cleaner air.”

On January 31, the clean air advocates, represented by Earthjustice, filed their formal notice of intent to sue under the federal Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act requires the local air district to adopt a plan for the Valley to meet the national 1-hour ozone emission standard by November 2010, a deadline the Valley missed.

All existing major industrial sources of ozone pollution must apply reasonably available control technology (RACT). The 1-Hour Ozone Plan submitted by the District in 2004 included a chapter purporting to show that the District had adopted the necessary regulations to meet this requirement.

Environmental groups including Earthjustice provided extensive evidence to the EPA that this was not true, and that many of the District’s regulations failed to require reasonably available controls. The EPA raised many of these concerns with the District, which led the District to withdraw the RACT demonstration portion of the 2004 Plan. As a result, on January 21, 2009, EPA issued a finding that the District had failed to submit the required RACT portion of the ozone plan. This finding initiated a 2-year clock for EPA either to approve a revised demonstration or to adopt the missing RACT rules. The EPA, thus, had a deadline of January 21, 2011 to adopt federal substitute RACT measures, but the agency failed to take action.

The District submitted a revised RACT demonstration in June 2009, which the EPA deemed administratively complete on December 11, 2009. The EPA must approve (or disapprove) such submittals within 12 months after the completeness finding. This created a separate deadline for the EPA to act on the revised RACT submittal by December 11, 2010, and the EPA is in violation of that deadline as well.

If the EPA doesn’t rectify the situation, the Sierra Club and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air will file a citizen’s deadline suit presenting two claims: one for the missed December 11, 2010 deadline for acting on the District’s revised RACT submittal, and the other for missing the January 21, 2011 deadline for adopting federal replacement rules.

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