December 16, 2005

California Regulators Adopt Rules on Wineries

FRESNO, Calif. -- Air regulators in the San Joaquin Valley on Thursday approved the nation's first air quality controls on wineries in an effort to clamp down on smog-forming chemicals that drift into the atmosphere during fermentation.

Regional officials also approved rules requiring developers and other industry to cut down on pollution throughout the valley - one of the dirtiest air basins in the nation.

The winery rule approved by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District asks the 18 largest wine makers in the eight-county region to reduce pollution from their plants by 35 percent.

In a move opposed by environmentalists, the district's board allowed the wineries to pay another industry, such as a neighboring dairy, to reduce a similar amount of pollution if the vintners find that making changes in the production process is too expensive.

Vintners also can choose instead to pay into a fund the air district will use to help other communities and industries reduce their pollution.

Wineries in the valley have come under scrutiny because the fermentation process that turns grape sugars to alcohol releases ethanol, methanol and other organic compounds into the atmosphere, where they react with sunlight and heat to form ozone.

Environmental advocates complained that the rules were too lax and gave wineries an easy way to avoid cutting back emissions.

"They rushed it," said Earth Justice's Sarah Jackson.

The San Joaquin Valley has 109 vintners - including some of the country's largest such as E&J Gallo and Delicato - and produces approximately 338 million gallons of wine a year, or roughly 70 percent of California's table wine.

Vintners opposed the rule but praised the district for making the rule flexible.

"You still get the emissions reductions the district wants to achieve, but it gives wine makers a way of complying in the most cost-effective way," said David Farabee, a lawyer for the Wine Institute.

The other rules approved Thursday require developers to include features such as bike lanes and sidewalks or pay a fee of up to $780 a home for developments with more than 50 homes, commercial projects exceeding 2,000 square feet and other sites meant for industrial and medical uses.

The valley risks losing federal highway funds and other benefits if it does not come into compliance with clean air standards.