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Release Date: 6/6/2001
Contact Information: Lisa Fasano, U.S. EPA, 415-744-1587

     SAN FRANCISCO   The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is today proposing actions affecting the Searles Valley, Calif. particulate matter (PM-10) nonattainment area which is located in the rural, CA high desert and includes portions of Inyo, Kern, and San Bernardino Counties.

     EPA is proposing to split the Searles Valley nonattainment area into three separate areas: Coso Junction, Indian Wells Valley and Trona.  This split is consistent with how the State of California has historically administered air quality programs in the region and is supported by the geographic features of the area.  

     The proposal includes a finding that the Trona area attained the PM-10 standards by December 31, 1994, the Clean Air Act deadline for the area.  The proposal also includes a finding that the Coso Junction and Indian Wells Valley areas did not attain the federal PM-10 standard by the December 31, 1994 attainment date.  If the EPA finalizes its finding, Coso Junction and Indian Wells Valley will be reclassified from a moderate to serious PM-10 nonattainment area.

     "Although air quality in Coso Junction and Indian Wells Valley has been generally good during the past two years, the areas still haven't quite met the federal standard," said Amy Zimpfer the EPA's Air Division Deputy Director for the pacific southwest.  "We are confident that the areas can take additional steps in the near term to address particulate pollution, thus allowing EPA to determine, possibly as soon as next year, that the areas have attained the federal standard."

     The Clean Air Act requires three consecutive years of clean and complete air quality data in order for an area to qualify for an attainment finding.  During 1992-1994, Coso Junction exceeded the PM-10 standard, and Indian Wells Valley had significant gaps in their data.

     EPA also reviewed the most recent three years of air quality data (1998-2000)  to determine if the areas might qualify for attainment based on recent data.  Unfortunately, both areas exceeded the standard during that  period.  If either area has clean air in 2001 and meets other relevant Clean Air Act criteria, EPA will work to quickly redesignate the area to attainment.  If there are exceedances of the federal standard in 2001 and/or EPA's action is finalized, Coso Junction and Indian Wells Valley would need to upgrade their current air quality regulations and develop a new attainment plan.

     PM-10 has been linked to significant health problems, including reduced lung function and premature death, reduced visibility, and increased absences from work and school.  Sources of PM-10 (fugitive dust) include unpaved roads, construction sites, and disturbed soils.

     Today's proposed action is, in part, a response to a lawsuit brought by Sierra Club, seeking to compel EPA to determine whether certain nonattainment areas, including Searles Valley, had attained the 1-hour ozone or PM-10 federal air quality standards.  

     The EPA is seeking public comment on the proposal.  The public comment period will run for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register, which should occur within the next two weeks.