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The California Department of Parks and Recreation has known for decades that off-road vehicle activity at its park on the Oceano Dunes contributes to a plume of dust that’s a health risk to downwind communities.

Yet the agency has fought enforcement of clean air rules, failed to meet regulators’ requirements and, in an apparent effort to dodge responsibility, has looked for other factors to blame for poor air quality — even though State Parks’ own research found dust emissions are higher where vehicles drive.

The Tribune recently learned State Parks invested $437,500 on a multi-year study to determine whether phytoplankton — a microscopic form of marine life — contributes to poor air quality, despite years-old findings that the bulk of particulate matter found in air quality monitors on bad air days is crustal matter like dust or soil.

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