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California’s San Joaquin Valley Achieves Historic Clean-air Mark for Smog

November 14, 2013
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Valley farmers and dairies have consistently proven to be great stewards of the environment, says one air district supervisor.  
 
 

Dairies’ efforts credited with helping improve valley’s air quality; Air District to formally ask EPA to lift the $29 million annual penalty mandate on Valley residents.

Source: SJV Air Pollution Control District

For the first time in recorded history, the San Joaquin Valley in 2013 had zero violations of the hourly ozone standard established under the federal Clean Air Act.

With the conclusion of the official ozone season that runs from March through October, the District will now submit a formal request to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to declare the Valley in attainment of the key standard and lift the $29 million penalty mandate which Valley residents have been paying since late 2010.

Reaching this milestone has been the key focus of the Valley’s air quality-management strategies for more than two decades. In 2004, EPA classified the Valley as "Extreme" non-attainment for this standard, meaning that reaching the standard, at that time, was deemed impossible.

"Becoming the first and only region in the nation with ‘Extreme’ classification to meet the standard is an achievement the entire Valley should be very proud of," said Skip Barwick, chair of the Valley Air District’s Governing Board.

In 1996, the Valley experienced 281 violations of this hourly standard throughout the eight-county region. The number of violations dropped to only seven in 2012 and zero in 2013.

Despite significant progress, Valley leaders were frustrated in 2010 when, under federal law, Valley residents and businesses became subject to an annual $29 million penalty. At the time, the Air District crafted an alternative approach that kept these penalties from going to federal coffers. Under the alternative approach that was approved by EPA, the Valley was able to retain those dollars and invest them in the Valley’s local economy to fund clean-air projects in the eight-county region. This alternative approach, however, is the subject of a lawsuit filed by a Bay Area environmental law firm seeking to impose additional penalties on Valley businesses.

"This historic achievement will moot frivolous lawsuits, and returns full local control to the Valley over the need and the manner of expenditure of public funds for air pollution control," Barwick said.

The members of the Air District’s Governing Board were unanimous in their appreciation of the enormity of this achievement, and in expressing their gratitude to Valley businesses and residents for their investments and sacrifice.

"Achieving this historic milestone provides a measurable return on the great investment and sacrifice that Valley businesses and residents have made," said Hubert Walsh, Vice Chair of the District board and Merced County supervisor. "The return comes in the form of improved public health and quality of life for all Valley residents."

"Valley businesses have been great partners with us in helping improve quality of life for Valley residents. This historic achievement would have been impossible without the billions of dollars that Valley businesses have spent in modernizing their facilities and reducing air pollution," said Judy Case, Air District Board member and Fresno County supervisor.

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