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Sunday, Sep 02 2012 11:00 PM

Best science and common sense should guide air quality standards

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    Sayed Sadredin

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By SAYED SADREDIN

Any objective and honest discussion about San Joaquin Valley air quality must start with an expression of gratitude to valley businesses, farmers and residents for their large investment toward clean air, and an acknowledgment that those sacrifices have paid off in substantial improvements in air quality in the past 20 years. The facts are impressive and a source of pride to all of us who live and work in the valley:

* Air pollution from valley businesses and farms has been reduced by more than 80 percent.

* The valley has seen the cleanest winters and summers on record over the past four years.

* In 2011, the air basin had just three days of one-hour ozone violations, compared with 56 days in 1996.

* We have reached federal attainment of standards for coarse particulate matter (PM10).

* The northern counties of the air basin are very close to attaining the current eight-hour ozone standard.

* Valleywide, the number of days with unhealthy air quality has dropped significantly and the number of days with good air quality has increased.

Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, we still have a long way to go in our journey toward clean air. Latest science has compelled the federal Environmental Protection Agency to impose more stringent health-based standards that will be extremely difficult for the valley to meet.

The fact that we have already employed virtually all available control technologies and strategies on pollution sources within the valley puts us at a critical juncture as we attempt to craft our latest "air quality management plan" for submittal to the EPA. We are going through the public process to prepare a plan for attaining the latest federal standard for fine particles (PM2.5) and we need input from all businesses and residents.

We cannot afford to follow the one-size-fits-all approaches often prescribed by the federal government or special interest advocates. We need to follow the latest and best science and deploy a good dose of common sense. For instance, the latest science indicates that reducing volatile organic compounds or ammonia will do little to help reduce particulate or ozone concentrations in the valley. This is due to the valley's characteristics relating to chemistry and speciation of the pollutants, and our meteorology. These are the key pollutants that are emitted from large dairies in the valley. Therefore, suggesting new controls on dairies as the "silver bullet" for air pollution problems is analogous to suggesting that we treat a patient who is having cardiac arrest with a perfumed acne medicine. Getting rid of the dairies will make some parts of the valley look better and smell better. But it will do little to reduce particulates and ozone that have deadly health impacts.

Valley businesses and farmers (including dairies) are already subject to the toughest air regulations in the nation. We cannot meet the federal standards on the back of businesses alone. Further reductions in emissions require significant advancement in technology and active participation by valley residents in reducing pollution from our day-to-day activities. More than 80 percent of our particulate and ozone problems in the valley come from mobile sources of emissions. Trucks are the largest source of air pollution in the valley and 50 percent to 60 percent of truck traffic is pass-through with no business stops in the valley.

There is no other region in the nation that faces a more difficult task in meeting more stringent air quality standards. However, we can meet these standards if we develop a plan that adapts the valley's clean air strategy to prioritize those factors that most effectively address public health needs. Toward that end, we should pursue a multifaceted strategy as follows:

* Investment in research and development of new and cost-effective clean air technologies.

* Prioritize measures that reduce pollutants with greatest impact on public health.

* Consider episodic measures that reduce key pollutants in locations with greatest impact on public health.

* Hold our neighboring regions accountable for their contribution to the valley's air pollution.

* Pursue land-use approaches that minimize growth in vehicle miles traveled.

* Public investment in partnership with the private sector to expedite deployment of cleaner trucks, vehicles and technologies.

* Public participation in reducing pollution from daily activities.

In short, we have to follow the science and be strategic with our limited resources. We have great faith in this course, and in our mutual efforts, to take us the rest of the way.

Seyed Sadredin is the executive director and air pollution control officer of the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District, which covers eight counties, including Kern.

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