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Valley Air District Seeks Public Comment On Plan To Improve Air Quality

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A much-anticipated plan to reduce particulate matter in the San Joaquin Valley is now up for public comment.

After years of revisions, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is seeking public comment on its latest plan to reduce PM2.5, a harmful pollutant that causes respiratory problems and is increasingly being linked to other serious health conditions.

The EPA tightened its standards on PM2.5 in 2006 and 2012, but the Valley hasn’t even met the EPA’s 1997 standards. This plan puts forward a strategy to attain all three standards.

The air district turned down an interview request for this story, but district administrator Sheraz Gill spoke at a public meeting in late August. He touted new regulations and incentives to target emissions sources like flares, glass melting furnaces, steam generators, and off-road equipment.

“You’ll find that the vast majority of the valley comes into attainment by implementing just these very strict measures,” he says.

Central Valley Air Quality Coalition Director Dolores Barajas-Weller seems cautiously optimistic. She’s excited the plan addresses agricultural burning and restaurants with large charbroilers, but she doesn’t approve of the so-called “targeted hot-spot” strategy, which would enforce tighter burn restrictions in some areas than others.

“We think that’s going to be an enforcement nightmare and we are not providing the same health benefits across the valley that the hot spots will get to experience,” she says.

The air district will be accepting public comments on the plan until September 30, after which it will need approval from the local air district board, the California Air Resources Board, and the federal EPA.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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