California Air District Seeks Stricter National Truck, Train Emission Regulations

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is tired of being decades behind meeting federal air quality standards, so it petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency June 22 to do something about it.

The petition responds to EPA’s new air quality standards, which will require the Valley to lower fossil fuel combustion emissions by 90%. The air district says it will do all it can, but needs help: only 15% of emissions stem from Valley businesses – meaning trains and heavy-duty-diesel trucks under federal jurisdiction contribute the remaining 85%.

The petition calls for a national standard requiring truck and train manufacturers to produce new engines that are 90% cleaner. It also seeks 50% to 80% emission controls on recently re-manufactured and existing trains, depending on size and type.

“This only gets us a fighting chance to get to the standard,” said Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the air district. He predicted Valley residents will pay major penalties if the federal EPA does not take responsibility for reducing the emissions under its jurisdiction.

A bowl-shaped valley and stagnant air hinder the region’s natural ability to have clean air. A steady flow of trucks and trains, half of which represent businesses outside the region, only increases the air quality challenge the district faces. The petition is a cry for help.

“Although the Valley has seen tremendous improvement in air quality over the last 20 years, meeting these new standards is impossible without the EPA taking responsibility for reducing pollution from sources that fall under their legal jurisdiction,” Sadredin said.

An EPA spokeswoman said the agency will review the petition.

“EPA intends to work closely with California and other states and local air quality officials, nongovernmental organizations, other federal agencies and interested commercial representatives to identify both regulatory and non-regulatory emission control solutions best designed to achieve reductions in the transportation sector,” the spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

Together, the Valley and the South Coast have the worst pollution in the United States. The South Coast Air Quality Management District, which includes the Los Angeles metropolitan area, also petitioned EPA with similar requests earlier this month. A contingent from that district went to Washington, D.C., to meet with EPA officials and congressional representatives.

Sam Atwood, the district’s spokesman, admitted that though the petition did not lead to a firm answer, the EPA received it positively and seemed to understand the district’s situation.

But Sadredin isn’t optimistic. He said he believes EPA sympathizes, but cannot make the case for, a national standard for both political and legal reasons.

So the air district is already considering using legal force to get EPA to act on new rules for diesel engines in trucks and trains, Sadredin said.

Fresno City Councilman Oliver Baines, chairman of the Valley Air District Governing Board, echoes this sentiment.

“This is the right fight, and we are doing everything we can in the interest of the public health and air quality,” Baines said. “If it means fighting the federal government to have them participate in the process, then we should do it. We need partners and sometimes the way you get partners is you have to force them to the table. Luckily we live in a country where we have a mechanism where we are allowed to compel entities to do the right thing.”