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EPA designation could hurt farmers

POSTED September 1, 2009 10:53 p.m.
Local dairymen will likely see an increase in the costs of doing business due to a proposed redesignation of the San Joaquin Valley under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules.
Between 600 and 700 Valley farming operations and dairies will be subject to new permitting requirements, rules, and regulations as a result of the EPA’s move to reclassify the region’s ozone levels from “serious” to the heightened level of “extreme,” according to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
The threshold for a farm to be considered a “major” pollution source — those required to obtain permits — was previously set at 25 tons of nitrogen or volatile organic compound emissions. That level will be lowered to 10 tons of emissions in September, should the EPA move forward with their plans.
“Administrative costs are not a big part of the problem; our permits have some of lowest fees of any district,” said Seyed Sadredin, San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District executive director. “The real cost is the regulations that come along with having a permit.”
In real-world terms, a dairy would previously need approximately 1,000 cows to trigger the requirement for air pollution permitting. Now, dairies with less than 500 cows would be required to install costly emissions control technology, subject to federal requirements.
Expansion and modification of existing “major polluter” dairies would become more costly and complicated as well, triggering additional emissions control requirements.
Dairies and other large employers could also be subject to a new air district rule intended to reduce employee trips to work.
All employers with more than 100 employees would be required to put into place educational programs, incentives, and disincentives to encourage employees to move away from single occupancy vehicles. Instead, carpooling, bike riding, and vanpools are to be encouraged.
The reclassification of the San Joaquin Valley’s ozone levels would come as a condition of a much-needed 11-year extension to the Air District’s deadline to clean the air of ozone.
The Federal government previously imposed a Clean Air Act mandated 2013 deadline to reduce Valley ozone concentrations to acceptable levels. In 2007, the Air District determined that meeting the 2013 deadline was unfeasible, and the State of California requested an extension from the Federal government.
“Given the Valley’s challenges and the reductions we need to make to meet the federal standard, at that time we could not identify ways to meet the deadline,” Sadredin said. “… Obviously, it’s not a free extension that they give you; it comes with some requirements.”
The EPA is expected to grant the extension — and impose the requirements — in September.
The deadline of 2013 was established in 2004, when it was determined the San Joaquin Valley was in nonattainment for the 1997 8-hour ozone national ambient air quality standard.
Ozone is a dangerous gas created by a chemical reaction between volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight. In order for the Valley to meet Federal requirements, nitrogen oxide emissions must be reduced an additional 75 percent from current levels.
The Valley was forced into the “extreme” ozone designation as no avenues have been identified to reduce emissions to a point where attainment can be reached. According to Air District projections, no existing or in development technologies will allow the Valley to reduce ozone concentrations to acceptable levels, even by the 2024 deadline.
“We still need additional advances in technology, and we’re hoping before we get to 2024 the technology will be there for us to get there,” Sadredin said.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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