SAN JOSE — The California Farm Bureau has filed suit to block the Environmental Protection Agency from ending the industry’s longtime exemption from federal air pollution regulations.
The Farm Bureau, which represents 95,000 farmers, wants the exemption continued another three years so more studies can determine how much farms pollute.
The EPA settled a lawsuit in May to begin holding farms accountable for pollution from diesel water pumps and animal waste. Farms have had a break from Clean Air Act regulations for more than 25 years.
Agriculture is the largest industry in the state and it contributes more than a quarter of the smog in the farm-rich San Joaquin Valley during summer months and most of the soot pollution the rest of the year, according to the California Air Resources Board. The valley is one of the worst polluted air basins in America.
Animal waste alone is on track to become one of the largest sources of smog in the valley in the next three years, according to state projections.
Cynthia Cory, a Farm Bureau lobbyist in Sacramento, said the data about smog-forming emissions from manure lagoons and animal feedlots are based on research that dates to the early half of the century.
“I think it’s really disingenuous to say the data is out there,” Cory said.
Cory said she fears all farmers will be unfairly targeted for regulation.
Environmentalists said the lawsuit amounts to typical delay tactics by agriculture to reduce its air pollution.
“These are farms that are plenty big enough to afford some emission controls,” said Anne Harper, a lawyer with Earthjustice, which filed the lawsuit to end the exemption. “Given this is the dirtiest air in the nation they should want to take part in cleaning up the air.”
The suit was filed Monday at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to review the EPA’s decision to end the exemption.
EPA spokeswoman Lisa Fasano said the agency has not seen the suit, but stands by the settlement it reached with environmental, community and health groups that accused the agency of failing to enforce the Clean Air Act. Under the law, all major pollution sources must be regulated.
The EPA published its decision to end the exemption Wednesday in the Federal Register, opening a public comment period that ends Sept. 3.
Until state lawmakers end the exemption that was last amended by the Legislature in 1976, the EPA will issue pollution permits for farms.
The state could lose $3 billion in federal highway funds and industries could face hefty fines if the state does not remove the break.
The EPA has threatened to end the waiver in the past, but it reversed course in December and granted a three-year reprieve. Only after the suit was filed did it change its stance and take action.
Since then, farm lobbyists have gone to great lengths to keep the exemption alive.
Central Valley agriculture interests asked Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., this week to extend the exemption through an agriculture appropriations bill.
Feinstein rejected that suggestion and tried unsuccessfully to put a provision in the bill to fund upgrades for farm equipment, said spokesman Scott Gerber.