State expected to back disputed clean-air plan

The state is expected today to approve a disputed valley air cleanup plan that has been made more aggressive in the past three months, but activists complain that more progress should have been made.

They are upset that a state-led task force came up short of additional ozone reductions needed to clean the air before 2024, the completion deadline.

Years of human suffering could be eliminated with tighter rules on industries in the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, activists say.

"To see the white flag now is very disappointing," said Delano-based Daniela Simunovic of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, a national nonprofit group. "We're not giving up."

Governing members of the California Air Resources Board are expected today to send the valley's ozone plan to federal officials, which is the state's final step in approving it. State officials said they will continue to pursue further ozone reductions for the valley.

The region violated the federal ozone standard 65 times this year, second-most in the country behind 79 in the South Coast Air Basin.

In June, the state board accepted the local air district's plan laying out the timetable and rules for the cleanup. Governing board members also heard activists who said that the district ignored their suggestions for more stringent rules. The board decided to form the task force.

The task force -- including activists, local district officials, state air board staffers and two governing board members -- found that more pollution reductions were possible from diesel trucks and farm equipment.

The state air board, not the valley district, regulates those pollution sources.

Officials estimate that there is less pollution in the valley air than previously thought, meaning the cleanup will go faster.

The task force found ways to eliminate more than half of the excess pollution needed to move the 2024 target to an earlier date, but it's still not enough.

Officials said technology is not available to go further at the moment, but they said technological improvements likely will speed up the process in the future.

An independent study group, funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, disagrees. The Independent Sustainable Systems Research Center concludes that clean air can be achieved by 2017.

The center said state and regional air district officials should look again at the estimate of how much air pollution the valley produces each day. Center researchers said it still is overstated.