By Tom Frantz
Using funds designated to clean our air, local San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (air district) officials went on a political jaunt this September to Washington, D.C. Their purpose was to lobby for changes to the Clean Air Act of 1970. This is the law that authorized the formation of national, scientific and health-based, air quality standards and the requirement for the development of rules and regulations that will allow polluted regions to reach those standards.
Although the rules and regulations have changed over time, especially as new health studies show the need for tightening of the standards, the basic act has remained unchanged since amendments were made in 1990 giving the federal government more enforcement powers. The air district claims it is out of date.
Under the guise of “modernization,” the air district is requesting five major changes. It should not be surprising that none of them will lead to better air quality for local residents. They could also lead to a worsening of pollution levels in the name of economic growth. Here are the requests in summary:
Eliminate the older standards when newer ones are proposed so only one standard is being worked on at a time for each type of pollution such as ozone and fine particulates. This would effectively eliminate penalties and sanctions for not meeting the older standards by the deadline which is currently required.
Eliminate most milestones and deadlines for attaining clean air, period. Simply require that districts attain the standards as expeditiously as possible, as determined locally. This would allow the air board to decide whether any required milestones or deadlines are economically feasible with no consideration for the health benefits.
Allow the air district to arbitrarily determine which sources of pollution ought to be controlled and which ones can be left alone based on their own insight into relative dangers and exposure levels. This allows the air board to ignore most VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions and most ammonia emissions, which are a huge source of our pollution. It would also entail an arbitrary analysis of the relative exposure of different communities to pollutants.
Get rid of federal mandates for extra requirements and stronger pollution controls for badly polluted regions that have failed to meet an air quality standard on time. The air district claims it is already doing everything it can and there is nothing left for it to do once their plan fails. This exempts the air district from doing any more than what it has self-defined as everything possible and “no stone left unturned.”
Eliminate the current requirement to offset the pollution from an increase in vehicle miles traveled when that increase is from population growth. This allows developers to flaunt new rules requiring more dense development with mass transit options.
In contrast, here is a list of the five changes the air district should be asking of the federal government if it was truly interested in improving and protecting public health.
Give the district the authority to make stronger standards on boilers, cooling towers and smokestacks than the Environmental Protection Agency currently requires.
Give the district a wide-open indirect source authority to enforce full pollution offsets and mitigation for all new businesses and developments that involve any increase in transportation of trucks, vehicles, trains and planes.
Take away the district’s authority to bank emission reduction credits and use them to offset new sources of pollution.
Force the district to regulate and control all sources of air pollution and precursors equally, including all listed VOCs and ammonia.
Require the district to collect stronger fines, paid proportionately by the biggest local pollution sources, including large indirect sources, for any failure of the region to meet any standard on time.
In other words, the air district should be going to Washington to ask for more authority and power to clean our air. Instead, it is asking for permission to do the opposite at the expense of public health.
The public is suffering and dying from air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley. That makes it frustrating to watch this kind of genocidal action on the part of the air district leadership. The unholy alliance of polluters and politicians is behind it all. How much longer will they be allowed to rule our valley?
Longtime clean air advocate Tom Frantz is a retired math teacher and Kern County almond farmer. A founding member of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, he serves on the CVAQ steering committee and as president of the Association of Irritated Residents. CVAQ is a partnership of more than 70 community, medical, public health, environmental and environmental justice organizations representing thousands of residents in the San Joaquin Valley unified in their commitment to improve the health of Californians. For more information, visit www.calcleanair.org.