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EPA SIGNS SETTLEMENT OVER CALIFORNIA'S CLEAN AIR ACT OPERATING PERMITS PROGRAM; EPA TO IDENTIFY WORKABLE SOLUTIONS

Release Date: 5/14/2002
Contact Information: Jack Broadbent, U.S. EPA, (415) 947-8715, Joe Martyak (202) 564-7864

     WASHINGTON D.C.   The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed  a settlement agreement today resolving a challenge to the agency's approval of California's air permits programs under the Clean Air Act.  

     California citizen and environmental groups sued EPA, raising significant legal issues that today's agreement addresses.  California state law exempts agricultural operations from operating permit requirements inconsistent with the Clean Air Act.  EPA is working closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the farm community to explore constructive ways to address difficulties in applying traditional Clean Air Act approaches to agricultural sources.  Today's agreement provides adequate time to allow this ongoing effort to identify workable solutions.

     EPA Administrator Christie Whitman described today's settlement as  "the best approach for resolving the lawsuit.  It preserves the California programs for non-agricultural facilities, ensures reasonable time to address remaining issues and allows EPA to focus its resources and attention on the technical and practical difficulties associated with applying Clean Air Act permit requirements to the agriculture sector.  We will continue to work closely with the US Department of Agriculture, the farm community, the states, and the public to better understand and address the agricultural sector and air quality issues in a common-sense way."

     The settlement requires EPA to propose a rule giving the agency responsibility for ensuring that major agricultural sources of air pollutants in California obtain operating permits whenever required by the Clean Air Act.  EPA would have this responsibility only until California modifies its state laws that exempt these large agricultural operations from the permitting process.  

     Under the rule, California will continue to issue permits for other sources of air pollution.  A facility is required to have a Clean Air Act operating permit if it emits a significant amount of air pollution.  EPA believes that the majority of farms will not be subject to permitting requirements because they do not emit a significant amount of air pollution.
     
     A permit would simply incorporate all existing Clean Air Act requirements into a single document.  EPA's permits program facilitates compliance with existing emissions limitations.  It would not impose new emissions limits on agricultural operations.  Each year, the permit holder must certify that it is meeting these Clean Air Act requirements and periodically must provide data to support this certification.

     In December, EPA approved the California operating permit programs.  The approval deferred permitting of agricultural sources due to lack of data about their air emissions.  During the deferral period, EPA planned to examine its air regulatory requirements to determine which, if any, should apply to agricultural facilities.

     EPA and USDA already have jointly supported efforts to better understand and control air pollution from the agricultural sector.  These include:

         In September, EPA and USDA jointly asked the National Academy of Science to
     evaluate current science about air pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations.  The Academy will identify important air emissions from animal feeding operations and evaluate approaches for estimating those emissions, recommend technologies to control air pollution from animal feeding operations and identify any additional research needs.  EPA expects a final report by the end of October.

         For the past several years, EPA and USDA have supported California's voluntary program in the San Joaquin Valley, and other areas, to reduce air emissions from stationary diesel powered agricultural irrigation pumps.  The local air district provides funds to farmers to retrofit, rebuild or replace these existing engines with new, cleaner burning engines or an electric motor which will reduce emissions in the local area.  

     The settlement agreement is available at  http://www.epa.gov/region09/air

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