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Valley marks major mark for clean-air

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POSTED November 15, 2013 9:56 p.m.

For the first time in recorded history, the San Joaquin Valley in 2013 had zero violations of the hourly ozone standard established under the federal Clean Air Act. 

With the conclusion of the official ozone season that runs from March through October, the District will now submit a formal request to the federal Environmental Protection Agency to declare the Valley in attainment of the key standard and lift the $29 million penalty mandate which Valley residents have been paying since late 2010.

The penalty is collected every time vehicles are re-registered.

Reaching this milestone has been the key focus of the Valley’s air quality-management strategies for more than two decades.  In 2004, EPA classified the Valley as “Extreme” non-attainment for this standard, meaning that reaching the standard, at that time, was deemed impossible.  “Becoming the first and only region in the nation with ‘Extreme’ classification to meet the standard is an achievement the entire Valley should be very proud of,” said Skip Barwick, chair of the Valley Air District’s Governing Board.

In 1996, the Valley experienced 281 violations of this hourly standard throughout the eight-county region.  The number of violations dropped to only seven in 2012 and zero in 2013.

Despite significant progress, Valley leaders were frustrated in 2010 when, under federal law, Valley residents and businesses became subject to an annual $29 million penalty.  At the time, the Air District crafted an alternative approach that kept these penalties from going to federal coffers.  Under the alternative approach that was approved by EPA, the Valley was able to retain those dollars and invest them in the Valley’s local economy to fund clean-air projects in the eight-county region.  This alternative approach, however, is the subject of a lawsuit filed by a Bay Area environmental law firm seeking to impose additional penalties on Valley businesses. 

“The challenges that we face with respect to our air quality are unmatched by any other region in the nation.  Once again, the ingenuity of Valley residents and businesses has made the impossible possible,” said Tom Wheeler, Air District Board member and Madera County supervisor.

For more information, visit www.valleyair.org or call the District office in Modesto (209-557-6400).

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