Feds Halt New Highways In Imperial County, Citing Air Pollution
August 10, 2012

SAN DIEGO -- In a rare move, the federal government has put a stop to new highway projects in California's Imperial County as punishment for the county’s poor air quality.

Effective Aug. 9, the Federal Highway Administration is withholding federal funding for new highways in the county. The county will also not be allowed to move forward on projects still being designed.

Two years ago the Environmental Protection Agency told Imperial County it had 24 months to adopt new rules to improve air quality. Dust, pesticide use, the burning of agricultural fields and off-road vehicles make the air there among the most polluted in the nation.

But the county -- which is bordered by San Diego County on the west, the Arizona state line on the east and the U.S.-Mexico border on the south -- has not met the EPA’s demands to address that. That failure triggered funding sanctions, and this week, the Highway Administration said it could not allow highway projects to proceed.

The county had challenged the EPA's demands for new air quality rules in court, and late last month, the feds and the county reached a settlement to establish new rules. But it could be up to six months before the county is in compliance and highway funding can start flowing again.