Central Valley Smog Plan Junked

Central Valley Air Pollution

A federal appeals court rejected an air pollution clean-up plan approved by federal regulators in 2010 for the highly polluted air in eight Central Valley counties in California, saying it would not act as a “rubber stamp” for the faulty plan.

California’s Central Valley was first designated a “serious nonattainment area,” meaning it failed to meet minimal air quality standards back in 1991.  A decade later things had only gotten worse.  In 2001 it was designated an “extreme nonattainment area” for unacceptably high levels of ozone, commonly called smog.

The state is required to create plans to reduce smog and get within Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.  The eight-county area plan was based on data from 2004 and the EPA approved the plan in 2010 without considering current pollution data.

Several environmental groups, lead by the Sierra Club, sued to challenge approval of the plan as arbitrary and capricious because the EPA failed to consider updated pollution information.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Judge Ronald Gould and joined by Judges Sidney Thomas and Jay Bybee, agreed.

Under the 2004 remedial plan, it was estimated that by 2008 the smog from all vehicles would reach 429 tons per day, but the same 2008 estimate was kicked up to 598 tons per day in a later 2007 plan estimate, according to the court.  But the EPA relied on the earlier 2004 plan.

The EPA was on “shakey ground” relying on the old 2004 estimates, according to Gould.

“Our role is not to substitute our conclusions based on the facts presented for those of the agency, and we express no opinion as to what conclusion EPA should have reached with respect to the validity of the 2004 [plan], upon consideration of the 2007 data.  But we should not silently rubber stamp agency action that is arbitrary and capricious in its reliance on old data without meaningful comment on the significance of more current compiled data,” Gould wrote.

Back to the drawing boards for the state.  The eight counties include:  San Joaquin Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and the valley portion of Kern county. 

Case:  Sierra Club v. U.S. EPA,  No. 10-71457

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