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California’s Pollution Laws Survive Challenge

(CN) - The efforts of several California counties to regulate air pollution from farm-based diesel engines do not violate federal law, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.

Since 2007 the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District has required operators of nonvehicular diesel engines to register with the district and pay a usage fee. The district, which covers Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties, also sets emissions standards for "stationary diesel engines" used within the counties.

Salinas-based Jensen Family Farms, which uses diesel engines to power irrigation pumps, sued the district in 2008, claiming that the restrictions were pre-empted by the federal Clean Air Act and violated the farm's due-process rights.

Chief U.S. District Judge James Ware ruled for the district, finding that the standards in question were not pre-empted by federal law because, among other things, they do not directly control emissions. Rather, they seek only to gather information and collect fees. The district's rules setting emissions standards are not pre-empted because they apply only to stationary engines, according to the federal judge's ruling. Ware also rejected the farm's due-process claims after finding that the district had a legitimate interest in controlling the region's air pollution.

The federal appeals panel in San Francisco agreed on all points.

"A commonsense reading of Rules 220 and 310 demonstrates that the registration and fee regime laid out in these rules does not amount to 'standards or other requirements relating to the control of emissions,'" Judge Richard Paez wrote for the unanimous, three-judge panel. "The requirements imposed by Rules 220 and 310 do not involve emissions control; they require owners and operators of certain diesel engines to provide information to the district about their engines and to pay fees. The plain language of Rules 220 and 310 has nothing to do with emissions standards or the control of emissions."

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