(May 29) SAN FRANCISCO — It’s still too early to tell what effects a lawsuit settlement between environmentalists and the Environmental Protection Agency will have on California growers, but grower groups are promising the fight isn’t over.

Three consolidated lawsuits filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals were settled the second week of May. The lawsuits cen-tered on agricultural deferrals of permits under Title V of the Clean Air Act. In the settlement, the EPA agreed to find that California was not implementing the Clean Air Act and to propose to withdraw its approval of California’s Title V program that granted an exemption to agricultural sources of air pollution.

California agriculture has been shielded from state regulation by a provision of state law that prohibits local air districts from requiring permits for “any equipment used in agricultural operations in the growing of crops or the raising of fowl or animals.” No other state specifically exempts agricultural operations from air pollution permitting requirements, said Anne Harper, an attorney for Earthjustice and co-counsel on the lawsuit.

Earthjustice and the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment brought the lawsuit on behalf of the Association of Irri-tated Residents; Communities for Land, Air & Water; the Medical Alliance for Healthy Air; the Natural Resources Defense Council; Our Children’s Earth Foundation; and the Sierra Club.

As a result of the lawsuit settlement, new regulations on diesel engines used on farms would be imposed beginning May 1 and on all other major agricultural sources of emissions three months after that, according to the California Farm Bureau Fed-eration.

If California doesn’t eliminate the agricultural deferral on permits for air pollution, it could face increased pollution offset requirements Nov. 15, 2003, and the loss of its federal highway funding May 15, 2004.

Farm Bureau president Bill Pauli said EPA’s change of course was disappointing.

“EPA earlier had recommended that agricultural sources be deferred from regulatory action until ongoing and planned studies were completed to determine more accurately what agricultural operations contribute to air emissions,” Pauli said. “We supported EPA on its three-year deferral so that science-based emission rates could be determined. We are dismayed that EPA has proceeded toward regulation without waiting for the results of these studies. California’s farmers and ranchers now face additional regulations.”