The federal EPA’s recent inaction on a valley air district plan to reduce small particulate emissions will require additional planning but not, as locals had feared, costly sanctions, a spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.

The news was skeptically received, however, by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s executive director and a board member.

At issue is the 2015 PM2.5 Plan for the Air Pollution Control District, which extends from western Kern County north through San Joaquin County. It sets out the district’s plan for reducing the emissions of particulates that are 2.5 microns or smaller by varying amounts per year.

Because of their small size — about one-thirtieth the width of the average human hair — these particulates can lodge deep in our lungs and are believed by the government to present a significant health risk.

The air district approved its plan last summer, and the state had asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency to approve it by June 30, the deadline. But late last month, officials learned the EPA had decided not to act.

“EPA is telling us that they decided not to finalize their proposal to approve the district’s plan based on comments they received from Earthjustice, an environmental law firm from San Francisco,” Seyed Sadredin, the air district’s executive director, wrote in a June 30 briefing report to the air district board.

Its failure to act, he noted, will require the air district to pass a new plan that cuts emissions by 5 percent every year “until the valley reaches attainment.”

That’s a much more difficult task, according to Ahron Hakimi, executive director of the Kern Council of Governments.

“It is very likely that within the next 10 years we will not be able to achieve all the air quality standards that are coming,” Hakimi said.

In an email, an EPA representative described Earthjustice’s remarks only as “adverse comments that challenged our proposal (to approve) based on a number of alleged deficiencies in the plan and its pollution control measures.” 

A representative of Earthjustice did not respond to a request for comment.

“Failure to attain a standard triggers new air quality planning requirements under the Clean Air Act to ensure continued progress towards attainment, but does not trigger any federal sanctions,” EPA representative Margot Perez-Sullivan said via email.

Sadredin and Bakersfield Vice Mayor Harold Hanson, an air district board member, were both dubious federal sanctions would not be triggered.

“They proposed to approve it and then they sort of disappeared,” Sadredin said of the plan. “Now to take their word, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ I wouldn’t put that in the bank.” 

Hanson was equally pessimistic.

“Well I’d like to see that in writing. I’m surprised that they even made that statement but I don’t know how much hope it gives me. Let’s see what happens,” he said. “We’ll just carry on and we’re going to follow this thing and push as hard as we can.”

Sadredin said he will present a “comprehensive package” on the issue at the air district board’s Aug. 18 meeting.

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