Air quality standards run afoul
Nevada County’s political representatives are leaning on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to keep the county from being linked with the Sacramento region’s poor air quality.
As a way to clear up western Nevada County’s poor summer air quality, the EPA is proposing to include the county with the Sacramento region, both of which are not meeting federal standards for ozone. But the EPA’s proposal runs against recommendations from the California Air Resources Board and the Grass Valley-based Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District.
They argue that Nevada County’s air pollution is produced in the Bay Area and Sacramento and then “transported” on westerly winds into the foothills.
Because of the relatively low amount of emissions generated locally and the transported ozone, lumping Nevada County in with Sacramento would not improve air quality, yet burden local businesses with increased regulations that Sacramento must meet, local and state officials argue.
As the April deadline for the EPA decision nears, an intensive campaign has been underway to convince the agency to keep western Nevada County separate. Rep. John Doolittle, state Sen. Sam Aanestad, Assemblyman Rick Keene, the chairman of the state Air Resources Board and a host of local public and private sector entities have voiced their opposition to the EPA proposal.
On Feb. 11, Doolittle sent a letter to EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt requesting a meeting on the issue.
“Frankly, this decision, which appears to be driven more by convenience than common sense, will impose severe and unacceptable constraints on my constituents in Nevada County,” Doolittle wrote.
He said the county has operated within the ozone recommendations for its area. But if it is added to Sacramento – which is a nonattainment area for the EPA’s new eight-hour ozone levels – the county’s federal transportation funding could be in jeopardy if it doesn’t comply with the new standards.
“Given that (western Nevada County) does not create the air quality problem with which its citizens are forced to live, it makes little sense to implement a designation that would penalize my constituents as if they were fully responsible for the ozone emissions exported by upwind urban areas,” Doolittle said.
Lisa Fasano of EPA’s Region 9 said the EPA recognizes the transport of pollutants into western Nevada County, and combining it with Sacramento would help find a solution. She noted the smog-choked easterly neighbors of Los Angeles.
“We’ve had to deal with that in the greater L.A. area for many years,” Fasano said. “You really need to look at the pollution generator to find the pollution solution.”
Ozone is an invisible pollutant formed by chemical reactions involving nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and sunlight. Prolonged exposure to high levels of ozone can cause respiratory problems in people. That is why the EPA is now using a eight-hour average rather than the previous one-hour guide.
The bottom line, Fasano said, is that western Nevada County is not meeting the eight-hour standard. And the best way to address that, the EPA proposes, is for the county to be linked with Sacramento.
“Nevada County can’t do it alone because the control of those (pollution) sources are outside their control,” Fasano said, adding that if the EPA gets its way, “Nevada County will have input in the Sacramento region’s planning.”
Meanwhile, the debate over the boundary change proposal may be moot depending on the EPA’s decision, Fasano said.
“This is all premature,” she said. “Those discussions are still ongoing. Until the decision is made, (Nevada County) will either be included or it won’t. And there will be rationale for that.”
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