If the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District board of directors doesn't want to put the infamous "lost" air monitor back on district land along Bear Mountain Boulevard, it absolutely should not.

Arvin-Edison should stick to its guns no matter how much Mary Nichols, California Air Resources Board (CARB) chairman, stamps her little feet and tries to blame the water district for a $30 million fine valley motorists are now paying. (A fine based on the valley not coming into compliance with a long-ago abolished federal ozone standard, by the way.)

That's all just bluff and piffle.

First, it's the district's land. Air regulators do not control it, the district does.

Second, CARB could have worked this all out last year with another land owner but dropped the ball.

Third, and most important, it turns out these air monitors don't tell a consistent tale about our air quality, which should be the real focus of anyone who is truly interested in the status of air quality rather than all this bureaucratic nonesense.

As I said, CARB could have moved last year to resolve the issue by putting the monitor on Nazar Kooner's land, a stone's throw from the old Arvin-Edison site.

Kooner told me he spoke with a CARB official last year and let them know he was happy to rent them space. He had all the ammenities they would need including electricty.

"They said they would be calling me, but I never heard back," Kooner said.

A matter of geography

Kooner's site is a half mile from the old site. Repeat: One half mile.

With no mountains, massive walls, or a phalanx of industrial fans between the Kooner site and the old Arvin-Edison site, I can't imagine the air would be significantly different at that little distance.

Interestingly, though, that's exactly why CARB didn't go forward with that site.

It, and the Environmental Protection Agency's air division, which sets the rules and has approval power over monitor sites, were afraid that even that close to the old site, the ozone readings would be significantly different.

If that were the case, they fretted, then when the valley did come into compliance with the ozone standard, air activists could sue over that one monitor saying its readings couldn't be counted, so the whole valley should be considered out of compliance.

In essence, I was told, activists could accuse CARB and the EPA of shuffling monitors to make it seem like the valley's air was in compliance. Of course, that's not true. Everyone knows the monitor had to be moved because the water district kicked it out, so I don't know how that would hold up in court.

But so great was the EPA and CARB's fear of such a lawsuit that they didn't even bother testing the Kooner site. Instead they opted to send a threatening letter to Arvin-Edison claiming the state has ultimate control over its lands and suggesting its next move would involve lawyers.

Both EPA and CARB told me getting Arvin-Edison to knuckle under was "the most appropriate solution."

I don't think so.

I was more curious about these gradients in ozone where, apparently, you can be out of compliance with the federal standard on one side of a street and in compliance on the other side.

Is it the monitors?

Partly, according to Seyed Sadredin, director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, who's been peripherally involved in "monitor-gate" since it began in 2009 when Arvin-Edison told CARB it wasn't renewing its lease.

Sadredin told me you can have two air monitors side by side and get different readings by as much as 10 percent. That's a pretty big margin of error. But Sadredin said such is the accuracy range of these monitors.

CARB spokesman Stanley Young said the agency's "accuracy target for ozone is to be within +/- 7%." That doesn't answer what the actual accuracy range is but it's closer to 10 percent than not.

In fact, the new monitor placed at Di Giorgio Elementary School, about three miles as the crow flies from the old site, did read 10 percent lower than the Arvin-Edison monitor during a dual reading period in 2010. A mobile monitor in the City of Arvin, also about thee miles from the Arvin-Edison site matched the Di Giorgio readings.

And those monitors were placed where people are actually breathing the air.

The old Arvin-Edison site is next to a busy road and the district's motorpool/heavy equipment yard. Not to mention there's a gravel mine about a mile away. Oh, and the monitor would actually get sprayed from time to time as it was adjacent to a vineyard.

Differences of opinion

Kerry Drake, associate director for the EPA's air division, said the monitor was appropriately placed when CARB put it there in 1989. The rules state you have to put monitors in areas were populations could be breathing the air and where models show the worst air quality.

"You can't put monitors on every block," he said. "So, if monitors showing the highest concentrations of pollution attain the standard, you can be assured the entire area has attained the standard, so it is a public health issue."

Sadredin countered that the rules say monitors should be in the worst areas that people are exposed to , not just where they could be exposed. Otherwise, why not put monitors at only high elevations where the ozone is typically far worse, he asked.

Sadredin has been frustrated by the stalemate created by EPA and CARB. After all, this isn't the first time a monitor has had to be moved in nation, he said. It should have been settled more than a year ago.

"This is all driven by activists and their misquided hope that if they put the monitor back at the Arvin-Edison site, which they think is the worst air quality, it will lead to tougher regulations," Sadredin said.

But in the last seven years, he said, Fresno/Clovis has had the highest number of peak ozone readings in the valley, not Arvin-Edison.

Sadredin can't do much about the standoff over the Arvin-Edison monitor.

But he's planning a full-court pollution monitoring press next summer, putting monitors all over the area to see how pollution moves, an effort that was spurred by the lower readings at Di Giorgio school.

That actually sounds useful. More useful than the past three years have been thanks to CARB and EPA.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com