Officials have obligation to keep dust rule in place

Reducing air pollution near Dunes benefits public health

letters@thetribunenews.comJuly 14, 2013 

Grover Beach Mayor Debbie Peterson is on an ill-conceived crusade to overturn a rule that requires State Parks to reduce particulate pollution from its Oceano Dunes off-highway vehicle park.

Drifting sand from the off-road park has been identified as a contributor to the dirty, particulate-laden air on the Mesa. That’s a huge public health concern, since particulate pollution has been linked to lung cancer, asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Peterson pays lip service to the need to protect the health of Mesa residents, but by trying to gut the county Air Pollution Control District’s dust rule, she makes it clear that her loyalties lie with the off-roading community and the Grover Beach businesses that benefit from the influx of visitors to the dunes.

As much as we share her desire to see Grover Beach prosper economically, we’re disturbed by Peterson’s attempts to gloss over the seriousness of air-quality problems on the Mesa.

Consider: In 2012, state standards for particulate emissions were violated 70 days on the Mesa. No other area in the county came even close to that. Paso Robles and Atascadero had only two days when particulate standards were violated, and San Luis Obispo had just one.

What’s more, federal standards — which are much more lenient than state standards — were violated five times over the past 18 months on the Mesa. That’s enough to warrant EPA intervention, which could happen if county oversight proves ineffective.

Not only is she minimizing a real public health issue, Peterson is spreading fear and confusion by claiming that the dunes are in danger of being closed to off-roaders on account of the dust rule.

To be clear, the dust rule says nothing about shutting down the park.

Here’s what it does do: It requires State Parks to monitor dust emissions and to take steps to block the flow of sand onto the Mesa. There are several ways to do that — planting vegetation and installing fences or other barriers are a couple. It’s up to State Parks to develop and implement a plan.

The dust rule also authorizes a fine of up to $1,000 per day for air-quality violations. However, it’s unlikely that a maximum fine would ever be imposed; the APCD has a long record of working with permit holders to bring them into compliance, rather than imposing hefty fines.

For example, the Phillips 66 Refinery was fined $2,000 last year for an operator error, when the maximum possible fine was $20,000. That doesn’t sound like the actions of an agency that’s looking to “harvest revenue,” as some have accused.

Complaining about the APCD fine schedule is a red herring; the fact is, many regulatory agencies have big penalties on the books for those egregious cases in which violators repeatedly fail to clean up their acts.

Bottom line: A Superior Court judge already has ruled that the county Air Pollution Control District has the authority to regulate dust emissions from the dunes.

Following some initial foot-dragging, State Parks is going ahead with the work it needs to do to comply with the dust rule.

So why repeal the rule at this late date?

By raising the issue again, Peterson is only sowing dissension.

The county Air Pollution Control District has a legal and, we believe, moral obligation to protect the respiratory health of residents on the Mesa. The dust rule — a carefully thought-out ordinance that took seven years to research and develop — is a way to do that.

We strongly urge public officials on the Air Pollution Control Board to reject any and all efforts to repeal it.

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