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Air district disputes federal fine

POSTED October 14, 2011 6:48 p.m.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is filing an appeal over a federal fine for ozone violation, citing a natural disaster as the cause of the spike.

The air district submitted their appeal to the Environmental Protection Agency to rescind some of the ozone violations recorded over the summer because they were caused by a large wildfire. The air district contends that the Lion Fire in the Sequoia National Forest, which scorched about 20,500 acres, caused abnormally elevated 8-hour ozone readings at the nearby Ash Mountain and Lower Kaweah monitoring stations.

Ozone exceedances come with a hefty penalty. In 2010, the air district surpassed the accepted levels and was fined $29 million for violating federal air-quality standards. Penalty fees are assessed on businesses that are not using clean-air technology and practices. Additionally, Central Valley residents will have a $12 fee added to their vehicle registration to pay a portion of the fine.

Air pollution can cause respiratory and heart problems, especially among children, the elderly and those with existing health concerns.

Under federal guidelines, natural events are occurrences outside the control of air quality management agencies that result in exceedances above health-based standards. When this situation occurs, the air management agency may petition EPA to have these exceedances removed from consideration for attainment of the standard.

“The natural events exclusion in federal law exists exactly for incidents such as this,” said Seyed Sadredin, the Air District’s executive director and air pollution control officer. “Valley residents and businesses should not be penalized for violations over which we have no control.”

In 2011, there were a total of 99 days that encompassed 285 occurrences in which the 8-hour ozone standard was exceeded somewhere in the Valley. Of this total, there were 16 days when the Ash Mountain and Lower Kaweah stations were the only places in the Valley that violated the standard.

District officials also note that the Ash Mountain and Lower Kaweah monitoring stations, located at the elevations of 1,800 feet and 6,400 feet, respectively, are secondary stations and should not be used for assessing air quality conditions on the Valley floor. Unlike other air monitoring stations in the Valley that were cited in strict adherence to federal laws to ensure collection of data that is representative of the quality of air breathed by Valley residents, these stations were sited and installed by the national park for the primary purpose of measuring pollution levels at the park, which are primarily impacted by wildfires.

“These monitoring stations were not designed to measure air quality in population centers in the Valley and should not be used by the federal government to assess the Valley’s attainment of the ambient air quality standards," Sadredin said.

The air districted reported that despite the fire, the air basin has seen a significant reduction in 8-hour and 1-hour ozone exceedances. The last three years have had the lowest total number of exceedances for ozone.

“Outside of this wildfire, the air basin had another exceptionally clean summer, for which the Valley residents and businesses must be commended,” said Sadredin. “Of course, despite significant progress, the Valley still has the second highest number of 8-hour ozone violations in the nation behind Southern California.”

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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