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Davis Signs Measures to Ease Central Valley Air Pollution

September 23, 2003|Miguel Bustillo | Times Staff Writer

Gov. Gray Davis ended California farmers' historic exemption from state clean air laws Monday, signing a series of bills that aim to curb the Central Valley's air pollution, which has become among the worst in the country.

"This package of legislation has passed because the people of the San Joaquin Valley are sick of air that's easier to see than it is to breathe," Davis said in a statement. "Cleaner air in the valley will better protect the health of the more than 3 million people living there, especially the children who have some of the nation's highest asthma rates."

Davis, who has been heavily promoting his environmental record in recent weeks as he campaigns against his recall, also signed into law a measure that seeks to preserve California's current standard of tough air quality regulations. The bill, SB 288 by state Sen. Byron Sher (D-Stanford), comes in response to weaker federal air regulations being implemented by the Bush administration.

"It's Gov. Davis showing leadership on an important issue," California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Winston Hickox said in an interview. "There are a number of states, especially on the Eastern Seaboard, that are also outraged by what is happening with the Bush administration. The states are having to protect themselves."

California's politically powerful agribusiness lobby initially fought the effort to end agriculture's exemption, which was led by Central Valley state Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) after a spate of media coverage on the issue.

The package of five bills signed Monday by Davis on farm pollution, spearheaded by Florez's SB 700, end the exemption. They also require San Joaquin Valley air regulators to phase out agricultural burning and call upon the California Energy Commission to develop incentive programs for renewable biomass power facilities to burn agricultural waste.

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