Air quality improves for Merced area

Despite some of the cleanest air on record last year, more stringent regulations may be on the way that'll cut down on more pollution in the Central Valley.

Last year's summer and winter seasons were the cleanest on record, according to a presentation by John Cadrett, a compliance manager for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

The air district has control over pollutants from stationary sources, such as power plants, gas stations and painting shops, Cadrett said Tuesday. What the air district doesn't have any control over are cars and trucks traveling through the Valley.

Since the early '90s, emissions from stationary sources have been reduced by 80 percent, he said.

The number of unhealthy days is down since 2000, according to the 2010 annual report from the district.

The influx of cleaner air can be attributed to the reduction in emissions from stationary sources and to favorable weather patterns, Cadrett said.

While emissions from industries have been lowered, more pollution from vehicles resulting from growing populations puts some of that pollution back in the air, he said.

Heavy-duty trucks are the main cause of pollution in the Valley. About 12 percent of the pollution in Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties is blown in from the Bay Area.

All the know-how that goes into finding practical ways to cut down on pollution has made local officials resources for other regions, Cadrett said.

"It used to be, at one point in time, we looked at other areas for ways of reducing pollution, and now other areas are looking to us for our experience and our guidance on how they can reduce air pollution," he said.

The federal government is looking at proposing new standards for air pollution levels that would reduce emissions by an additional 80 percent to 90 percent, which could make it tough for the Central Valley to reach those goals, Cadrett said.

Failing to meet pollution standards can lead to federal mandates and sanctions.

Stricter emission regulations may be good for the air, but could be bad for business.

Supervisor Hub Walsh, who is on the air district's governing board, said tighter air pollution standards would have an impact across the board, including the economy.

Standards for the region are already tough to reach, and some are questioning whether stricter levels could ever be attainable in the Central Valley, he said.

"It'll have significant impacts on us if they're able to impose it," Walsh said, adding that he hopes there will be flexibility with any new standards.

There is some legislation in the works that could push back the stricter regulations for the area.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsun-star.com.