In a historic vote, Valley air-quality leaders on Thursday asked federal officials to approve the regions attainment of the one-hour ozone standard. A few years ago, the Valley achieved the federal PM-10 standard coarse particle pollution usually associated with dust but this would be the first time the region has ever achieved an ozone standard.
For the first time on record, the Valley did not record a violation of the one-hour ozone standard during the warm months when the problem occurs. The achievement seemed all but impossible 10 years ago. The governing board for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District credited businesses with investing $40 billion in clean air since the 1980s. Members also thanked the public for cooperating with air alerts.
Valley residents have consistently ranked air quality as a primary area of concern and have risen to the occasion to do their part, said board member and Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill OBrien. The publics positive response and their efforts to reduce air pollution during Air Alerts was key to eliminating the last few violations that stayed in the way of the Valley meeting this critical standard.
The boards request now will be sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which will study the districts explanation for issues in two ozone hot spots. If EPA does not accept the explanation, the Valley would continue in violation of the one-hour ozone standard and still be liable for a $29 million annual fee, which was levied two years ago. The fee is paid mostly by motorists with a surcharge on vehicle registration.
The fee revenue remains in the Valley, going to pollution cleanup programs such as replacing older diesel engines with new, cleaner-burning ones.
District executive director Seyed Sadredin said he would push for an EPA decision within a year.
The district has passed more than 500 rules that have helped to reduce 80 percent of pollution emissions from sources in the district, including the petroleum and agriculture industries. Even so, the Valley still is among the worst offenders of the newer, more stringent eight-hour ozone standard. Leaders said they knew the battle for clean air must continue.
Although were celebrating, its not over, said Hubert Walsh, a Merced County supervisor and the air district boards vice president. Hopefully, this the end of the beginning.
OBrien urged citizens to pressure their congressional and U.S. Senate representatives as well as President Barack Obama to demand the Environmental Protection Agency review the achievement. Its going to take the EPA up to three years review of the numbers in order to certify the results, OBrien said. Weve done the work needed to attain our goal. They need to quit making us fine our residents.
EPA officials this week said they will take a hard look at the districts request for a waiver of an instance last year in which Fresno exceeded the one-hour ozone standard. The district said fires outside the area sent just enough pollution into the Valley to push the monitor past acceptable levels.
The district also will include a study explaining an issue at the Kern County monitoring site in Arvin. The state lost its lease for the longtime Arvin site in 2010 and was forced to move it two miles away. The new monitor showed lower readings, raising a controversy.
For attainment of the ozone standard, the district needed to show that the new site works as a replacement for the old site, which had been notorious for high readings over many years.
The district set up many temporary monitors in the area this year. The new site now has higher readings than the old one, though both were below the health threshold meaning the new site may be in a better location to detect pollution, local air leaders said.
Kern County air activist Tom Frantz of Shafter predicted the EPA will not agree.
We had a pretty good year for ozone, and thats good, he said. But we have not made the standard yet.
Modesto Bee columnist Jeff Jardine contributed to this report.