By Tom Frantz
The end of an era has come at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Seyed Sadredin is retiring after more than 10 years as the chief executive officer.
A look at his legacy is appropriate. Under Sadredin, the air district has continuously claimed to be doing a great job cleaning the air. It claims regularly to have the strictest regulations in the country. But, are residents breathing cleaner air today because of air district policies over the past 10 years? Has the district “left no stone unturned” as Sadredin likes to say ad nauseum.
Because of a lawsuit, Sadredin was forced to implement the first air quality regulations in the nation for factory animal farms. The air district made a menu of items each dairy would have to choose from to reduce volatile organic compound emissions. The dairy industry was happy because the menu required no more than what a well-run dairy should be doing anyway.
The air district was also forced through lawsuits to put in place an Indirect Source Rule for developers to mitigate the new air pollution emissions caused by their projects. The rule was weak, and it has not been properly enforced as one court recognized in Tulare County.
Because of repeated failures of the air district to show compliance with air quality standards, a fine was imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to collect money from big polluters for air quality improvements. Sadredin manipulated the rules so that the fine, approximately $30 million, was collected through state vehicle registration fees from every San Joaquin Valley resident who owned a car.
Sadredin has often blamed our air quality issues on outside causes. He made a big deal when ozone was discovered high in the mountains above Big Sur apparently blowing across the Pacific Ocean from China. Through a misinterpretation of preliminary data, up to 25% of our air pollution was stated to be from China. When proof was demanded, the air district slowly backed off those claims.
Whenever there has been a fire, anywhere in the state, the smoke somehow came into our valley and affected the air quality. Once upon a time, a three-hour fire at a refinery near Richmond caused a violation of an air quality standard three days later in Fresno, according to Sadredin.
There was a time, about seven years ago, that Arvin, in Kern County, consistently had the worst air quality in the Valley. The associated air monitor was then quietly removed and replaced with another kind in a new location. The air in Arvin was immediately 13%–18% cleaner. The State and the EPA demanded the monitor be put back. Sadredin privately met with the landowners at the site, and they subsequently refused to allow the monitor’s return.
Sadredin always blamed a lot of our bad air on people idling their cars at schools. He also criticized the American Lung Association when it “unfairly” ranked the Valley with the worst air in the nation. He once said that a lot of our Valley particulate matter was not as dangerous as other types. He even said the value of a life taken prematurely in the Valley, because of air pollution, was not as high as researchers claimed.
Sadredin liked to go on the radio and be quoted in the newspapers. Once he was asked on the radio why the air district cooperated with the EPA. Why didn’t he just tell them to go to hell? Sadredin said that was exactly what he and his board were trying to do.
A few years ago, Sadredin wrote a piece of legislation that would gut the Clean Air Act. With the new Congress in 2017, this legislation was quickly pushed through the House. Then, Sadredin backtracked and claimed the district really wanted only one small part of the legislation. But, the whole bundle is currently waiting for the Senate to take action.
Finally, through the years, Sadredin has consistently insulted the residents who have attended air district meetings and made comments asking for stronger regulations. According to him, no one understands the complexities of cleaning our air as he does.
So what about the air quality the past 10 years? Has it improved under Sadredin? The air district likes to cherry-pick numbers that make things look great. There has been some improvement in certain areas like the northern part of the valley. But, after a couple of better years really bad air pollution has always struck again.
Sadredin happens to be leaving with the air pollution worse than when he started in several areas. Residents in the southern half of the Valley experienced the worst episode of fine particulate matter in more than 10 years during the recent Christmas and New Year holidays. Just a month or two earlier, Bakersfield had gone through the worst summer of ozone violations in 10 years. This is not something most people would want to leave behind as a legacy.
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 (CVAQ), he serves on its steering committee and as president of the Association of Irritated Residents. The 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 improving the health of Californians. For more information, visit www.calcleanair.org.