Lawsuits rip feds' air-cleanup efforts in Valley

Air-quality activists filed three lawsuits Thursday against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, claiming federal officials are neglecting cleanup plans for the San Joaquin Valley.

Two suits were filed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, challenging EPA's approval of the Valley's cleanup plan for the one-hour ozone standard. Such appeals of approved air plans go directly to the appellate court.

Activists say officials failed to analyze the vehicle rules accounting for the biggest ozone reductions. Now the Valley, one of the nation's most-polluted air basins, is on the verge of missing the Nov. 15 cleanup deadline for the standard.

"We are suing EPA today because EPA has approved a plan that has failed," said Salvador Partida of the Committee for a Better Arvin, representing a city that frequently violates the ozone threshold. "The Valley will not meet the 2010 deadline."

The third activist lawsuit asks U.S. District Court in Oakland to force EPA to make a decision on the Valley's plan to stop violations of the eight-hour or daylong ozone standard. Activists say EPA should have accepted or rejected the plan a year ago.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is neglecting air-cleanup plans for the San Joaquin Valley, according to recent lawsuits from air-quality activists.

EPA officials had not seen the court papers Thursday and could not comment. But the agency is working hard with state and local air authorities clean up the Valley, said Kerry Drake, associate director of the EPA's regional air division, based in San Francisco.

"The San Joaquin Valley is one of our highest priorities," he said.

The nonprofit watchdog Center on Race, Poverty, & the Environment, with offices in the Valley and San Francisco, also filed a notice of intent to sue EPA over the Valley's particle pollution cleanup plan.

In the one-hour ozone lawsuit in San Francisco, the center represents Committee for a Better Arvin, Comité Residentes Organizados al Servicio del Ambiente Sano and Association of Irritated Residents. All are based in the Valley.

The Valley-based Medical Advocates for Healthy Air and the Sierra Club filed a separate action in the one-hour ozone case in San Francisco.

The Medical Advocates and Sierra Club also are the plaintiffs in the eight-hour ozone action filed in Oakland. They are represented by Oakland-based Earthjustice, another nonprofit watchdog.