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Senator Dean Florez Working to HURT Central Valley Farmers

Blackmails Air District to Get Tough on Farmers

Florez may seek cut in Valley air district's budget
Lawmaker targets possible ag burning ban exemptions.
Posted at 09:19 PM on Monday, May. 24, 2010
By E.J. Schultz / Bee Capitol Bureau

SACRAMENTO -- Making good on a threat made last week, state Sen. Dean Florez on Monday asked a legislative committee to withhold some state money from the Valley air district if it allows exemptions to a farm burning ban.

"If the district acts to reduce air pollution from ag burning, it will continue to see all of the financial benefits the Legislature provides to air districts," he said in a letter outlining his proposal to a Senate budget subcommittee. "If it doesn't, it will no longer be able to count on the state to subsidize its activities."

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District gets about two-thirds of its $150 million budget from the state.

Florez, D-Shafter, said he only wants to strip a portion of the money, although he did not say how much.

"I firmly believe his heart is in the right place and at the end of the day he won't punish the Valley .... by taking clean-air funding away," said district executive director Seyed Sadredin.

The Senate subcommittee met Monday but did not take action on the request. Florez said he hoped to get the proposal included in the 2010-11 state budget, which lawmakers are not likely to approve until this summer.

The Valley air district board last week approved exemptions for grape and citrus growers from the final phase of the burning ban scheduled to take effect June 1. District officials say that the amount of acreage burned each year has been reduced by 70% since the ban was made law in 2003.

Board members approved the exemptions to the final phase on an 8-2 vote, saying alternatives to burning are too costly at the moment.

As part of his proposal, Florez wants lawmakers to dedicate $10 million in existing state funds to restart a program that helps pay for costs of moving waste to biomass plants.

The state Air Resources Board must approve the burn exemptions at a hearing scheduled for Thursday in San Diego.

In a report, the board's staff said it agreed with the Valley district's action, noting that the "remaining burning will not cause or substantially contribute to violations of federal air quality standards."

Florez is lobbying the state board to delay action until he holds his own hearing on the issue next week.