Press Release Apr 15, 2022

Federal court sends flawed San Joaquin Valley air pollution plan back to EPA

Appeals court found California state's plan, approved by EPA, did not contain a realistic strategy to reduce pollution

Sacramento, CA – A decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) involving an inadequate air pollution plan for California’s San Joaquin Valley has been sent back to the agency for revision by a federal appeals court after the court ruled the plan failed to meet Clean Air Act requirements.

The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found the EPA wrongly approved a California state plan that did not contain a realistic strategy to reduce fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley.

According to the court ruling, the EPA erred in approving the state’s plan to meet the 2006 24-hour National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for PM2.5 in the San Joaquin Valley because the plan contained vague commitments to reduce emissions, and EPA could provide nothing more than “speculative assertions” of how the state might meet those commitments.

Specifically, the plan put forth by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (Valley Air District) contained a potential $2.6 billion shortfall in incentive funding and had no clear back up plan for how the state would fulfill its commitment to achieve the over 30 tons per day of pollution reductions needed to attain Clean Air Act requirements.

“The Clean Air Act does not allow EPA to approve half-baked, unrealistic plans for attaining air quality standards,” said Greg Muren, an attorney with Earthjustice. “We hope the responsible agencies will view this as a wake-up call and finally develop a real plan to protect residents from deadly air pollution, as the law requires.” 

“EPA’s failure to hold state regulators and polluters accountable has allowed CARB and the Valley Air District to push forward with a plan that does not do enough to protect San Joaquin Valley communities as well as Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, from harmful PM2.5 pollution,” said Mark Rose, Sierra Nevada Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “This decision reinforces years of work by organizers and community members who have pushed for environmental justice in the Valley, through advancing plans that truly address and reduce air pollution.”

“It is frustrating that our allies had to go to court to get the agencies that are supposed to be protecting us to meet their most basic planning obligations,” said Nayamin Martinez, Executive Director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “Environmental justice communities deserve clean air, and we need more than vague commitments from the state to get us there. We’re grateful the Court agrees that our health is important.”

For decades, the San Joaquin Valley has faced a clean air crisis, ranking amongst the most polluted air basins in the nation for fine particulate matter—with the Valley communities of Bakersfield, Fresno, and Visalia regularly listed as three of the most polluted cities in the nation for PM2.5.  

The challenge to EPA’s decision was brought by Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, National Parks Conservation Association, Association of Irritated Residents, and Sierra Club. Earthjustice represented these groups.


About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.6 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit

Read more from NPCA