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Local Businesses Find No Solace in New Federal Air Quality Plan : Regulations: Some predict that meeting the stricter smog standards will ruin the Ventura County economy.


Federal and local air-quality officials offered little hope Wednesday for area business people who claimed the Ventura County economy could be ruined if a new federal plan to clean up the air is imposed.

To meet standards set by the federal Clean Air Act, Ventura County must reduce its smog-causing emissions by 40% by 2005, officials told area residents and business representatives gathered at the Ventura County Fairgrounds for a workshop on the plan.

Measures proposed in a 1,600-page federal implementation plan for Ventura, Los Angeles and Sacramento counties aim to reduce emissions from trucks, tractors, ships, trains, pesticides and other more traditional sources of pollution, such as cars and businesses.

"The (federal) plan is going to have some significant economic impacts," said William Mount, deputy manager of the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District. "The trick is to come up with (local) alternatives to these measures. But we simply don't have enough tools to reduce emissions to meet the standards, and especially not by 2005."

The EPA was required to step in to solve air-quality problems in Ventura, Los Angeles and Sacramento counties after local air-pollution districts were unable to devise enough regulations to reduce pollution to meet standards.

In Ventura County, the local district has implemented strict controls on emissions from businesses within its jurisdiction. But cars, trucks, trains, ships and farm equipment and pesticides have been outside their legal limits.

The federal plan was required after Ventura County was designated as having a "severe" air-quality problem in the 1990 Clean Air Act.

Among other measures, it calls for a 70% reduction in nitrogen-oxide emissions from heavy trucks, such as those used to haul produce. The plan also would impose fines on ships using ports in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

Al Zemsky, a spokesman for the Environmental Production Agency, said federal regulators came to Ventura to explain the proposed new regulations and to get feedback.

"We need to hear from the public," he said. But he acknowledged that there is little room for the regulators to give on the proposed regulations if the standards are to be met. "It will be tough," he said.

Carolyn Leavens said her family farming business depends on heavy trucks to transport citrus from the farm to the warehouse, from the warehouse to the packer and from the packer to market or port.

"You would shut agriculture down in a wink if it goes through as proposed," she said. She said the farming industry can handle new regulations to reduce emissions from pesticides, from engines that operate pumps to bring irrigation water to the surface and from heavy farm equipment. But the restrictions on trucking will kill the industry, she said.

New regulations on ship emissions would also hurt the Port of Hueneme, said port spokesman W. Kam Quarles.

"If the fines go through, it would make the ports in this region less competitive than other parts of the West Coast," he said. "Fines like that can push shippers away."

But Stan Greene, president of the Citizens to Preserve the Ojai, said it hasn't been determined what the effects on business would be. On the other hand, he said there would be severe impacts if air pollution is not reduced.

"It is not just people's health and suffering," he said. "There are also economic costs to air pollution." He cited a reduction in crops, deterioration of architectural coatings and increased need for health care to treat lung ailments.

A public hearing on the plan, when comments from residents become part of the public records, will be held in July, Zemsky said.

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