Farmers dig into draft for dust rules as they brace for new round or regulations

Capital Press Staff Writer


California - Farmers started picking apart draft rules for the San Joaquin Valley as they braced for a new round of regulations designed to help the region meet federal Clean Air Act standards.

The comprehensive set of rules will cover dust and other small airborne particles that are an integral part of agriculture and which are associated with health problems such as an elevated incidence of asthma.

The emerging rules are important because they may cover individual farming practices such as how to plant, cultivate and harvest crops in the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which spans the stateís richest farming area.

Air regulators began a series of workshops this week. The complex plan must be completed and forwarded to the Environmental Protection Agency by Aug. 28, said air manager Dave Mitchell.

Roger Isom, vice president and director of technical services for the Fresno-based California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, pointed out that the proposal included some emissions that no longer existed in the Valley, since some of the them had been eliminated and the reductions sold as credits.

And he said that a proposal aimed at reducing the number of passes a tractor makes on a field was worded awkwardly, since machinery does need to turn around at some point.

ďIt isnít something that you would expect... that when they would get to the end of a row that they will keep on going,Ē he said at a Monday workshop in Fresno.

Mitchell said the purpose of the workshops was to hear industry feedback so language and procedures could be fine-tuned. He also said the district would reevaluate what the existing inventory of emissions should be.

The plan is the districtís often-delayed strategy of achieving National Ambient Air Quality standards for particulate matter measuring less than 10 microns in diameter. Thatís about one-seventh as wide as a human hair.

Because of the complex nature of particle pollutants, the district needs to evaluate many different emission sources, not just agriculture, said Mitchell. Particulate sources that are to be regulated under the new rules include construction, demolition, excavation, earthmoving, bulk transport, unpaved traffic areas and agriculture.

Attaining the deferral standard on particulates may take until 2010, air district staff said.

Jeff Harris, representing the building trade in Fresno, said that the draft needs to be fine-tuned. In its current form, he said, some indoor activities such as electrical work might be regulated when winds exceed 25 mph. Mitchell said the intent was to control outdoor emissions during windy periods, not to limit inside work.

Loron Hodge, manager of the Kern County Farm Bureau, said that farmers need guidance on how to react to an increasing number of regulation changes that affect how they do business. Some farmers who are operators of larger, stationary emission sources such as diesel engines are preparing to file for operating permits for the first time this spring to meet evolving clean air rules.

Hodge said he planned to make more detailed comments later.

Air district manages say they hope to establish a series of steps that agriculture can take to reduce dust and other emissions, so growers can choose what steps best fit their operations and businesses.

The region faces federal sanctions, including the potential loss of transportation funding, if it cannot adopt an approved plan.


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