A California bill that would bring new oversight on the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District was moved forward by the state Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee on Monday.

Authored by Fresno Democrat Joaquin Arambula, Assembly Bill 2550 would require the California Air Resources Board to circumvent the Valley air district by developing new air pollution regulations for industries like agriculture, oil refineries, and manufacturing facilities, especially in areas where Valley regulators have failed to meet clean air standards on time.

Introducing the bill to the Natural Resources Committee, Arambula said the state needs to intervene where local air regulators have failed, adding that the federal EPA is already legally required to come up with a clean air plan of its own for the Valley.

“The status quo is not acceptable. In the face of a decades-long health crisis, the California Air Resources Board must engage more strongly on this,” Arambula said.

Public health experts at the hearing said that Valley air pollution annually kills more people in Fresno County than car accidents. Catherine Garoupa White, the executive director of the Central Valley Air Coalition, said that the Valley has even failed to attain a nearly half-century-old ozone standard.

“Given the district’s long history of favoring industry at the expense of public health,” she said, “we continue to blow through deadlines to meet standards that are so old, they can no longer be considered health protective.”

According to the bill, CARB could conduct independent inspections at the Valley’s most prolific oil refineries and glass-melting furnaces, and local community-based organizations would work alongside CARB and the air district to identify new pollution control measures.

The Valley’s long list of failures to meet federal clean air deadlines would give CARB a wide latitude to rein in pollution under the new law. The Valley’s inability to achieve the 1997 annual PM2.5 standard, the 2006 24-hr PM2.5 standard, the 2012 annual PM2.5 standard, the 1979 1-hour and the 1997, 2008, and 2015 8-hour ozone standards would each kick-off CARB intervention on the Air District’s turf.

Valley Air District Opposed

In opposition, Tom Jordan, senior policy adviser at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, said the district is already “on track” to attain national air quality standards. He said the bill ignores “the collaborative process that already occurs between local air districts and CARB,” citing the three national air quality standards that district has achieved.

“The Air District and CARB have a long history of working together to develop and implement plans to bring the San Joaquin Valley into compliance with the state and federal air quality standards to improve public health,” Jordan said.

Brendan Twohig, a lobbyist with the California Air Pollution Control Officers Association, said the bill “really doesn’t provide more opportunity” to achieve emissions reductions in the Valley and that more money is needed for local incentive programs to clean up Valley air.

The 2018 PM2.5 plan – the last major plan by CARB and the Air district – has weathered a series of failures, EPA disapproval, and withdrawal. The last three efforts by Valley regulators to come into compliance with the country’s oldest PM2.5 annual standard all failed.

“We’ve got to find something else,” said Eloise Gómez Reyes, the Assembly majority leader, adding that if a clean air program is “not good enough, then something else is going to be put in.”

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Gregory Weaver is a staff writer for Fresnoland who covers the environment, air quality, and development.