The high stakes of California SIPs

State Implementation Plans, or SIPs, have long served as the crucial roadmaps that states use to plot out how they will meet federal health standards for air quality. Since the early days of the national clean air program, the SIP has been the tool used by federal regulators to evaluate progress in reducing pollution across the country. A well-organized and comprehensive SIP shows the public how sound environmental regulations can save lives and prevent thousands of unnecessary hospital visits and work days lost. Conversely, a missing or incomplete SIP can translate into a loss of federal funding for local transportation projects.

Special Distinction
California has the distinction of having more SIPs than any other state, thanks to our unique geography, history of air pollution, and dozens of distinct air basins. In many cases, we have found that SIPs end up attracting attention from the world of business and politics, with dramatic effect. But the lessons we learn and the approaches we experiment with here in California may be useful to other states as they face similar challenges in the coming years.

California holds the special distinction as being the only state with not just one, but two, areas that have been bumped up to “extreme nonattainment” designation, a measure local air districts take when they reach the painful conclusion that they just can’t meet federal health standards in the time allowed by Congress. The promulgation of the national eight-hour ozone standard and the fine particulate matter (PM) standards in 1997 now make it tougher than ever before to meet federal standards.

Both Southern California and, more recently, the San Joaquin Valley have requested an extreme designation because even with their local regulations for stationary sources and the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) aggressive mobile source regulatory programs, the federal standards are too stringent to meet. Requesting extreme nonattainment designation subjects local air basins to much tougher business siting requirements that, in turn, harm economic development. Thus, it’s harder to meet the clean air requirements required to open a business in Fresno and Los Angeles than it is in San Francisco or San Diego.

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