Air District Claims Success While Air Quality Worsens

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By Tom Frantz

The American Lung Association (ALA) has once again confirmed, in their annual report, that San Joaquin Valley residents are breathing the worst air in the nation and subsequently suffering the worst health effects from pollution. Fine particulate levels (PM 2.5), our most deadly form of pollution, have actually gotten worse in recent years according to the ALA and monitoring data.

At the same time, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District recently declared attainment of one of the oldest and least health protecting mandates called the one-hour ozone standard.

Although ozone levels have improved slowly the past decade or two with the slow turnover of our vehicle fleets to cleaner burning engines, it is questionable whether this old standard has actually been attained.

The problem is in Arvin at the southern end of the valley. A monitor there was removed in 2010 which had consistently measured the worst ozone readings in the valley for approximately 20 years. With its removal the air in the region suddenly improved dramatically, surprise, surprise! This has led to the air district now claiming compliance with the standard. Both the state Air Resources Board and the federal Environmental Protection Agency pointed out earlier that they could not certify attainment of any ozone standard unless that monitor was back in place. But, after several years of the air district crying foul, these agencies gave in this year and approved the claim of victory. That approval eases the pressure on the air district to make stricter rules decreasing local air pollution sources.

Our air district has also submitted a bill for Congress to hopefully pass this year. It is labeled HR4775 and is referred to as a Clean Air Act modernization plan. It is, in fact, a blatant attempt to gut the Clean Air Act in favor of big polluters.

The bill would take away penalties and contingency measures mandated by a failure of the air district to demonstrate progress in cleaning up our air. It would allow the air district to weaken air quality rules based on a subjective interpretation of the economic feasibility of proposed measures. It would also void violations of air quality standards during periods of extreme heat, stagnant air, or drought conditions, all of which would be determined by their own biased criteria.

This proposal is a direct attack on the people of the San Joaquin Valley. We need for the Clean Air Act to be strengthened, not weakened. Dirty air is costing the valley billions of dollars in health related costs annually while taking years off of our life expectancy.

The air district governing board basically thinks the profits and tax dollars of a few huge polluters are more valuable than the lives of several million people. They are protecting factory dairies, the oil industry, power plants, biomass incinerators and glass factories from the imperative to pay the true cost of their emissions which are causing premature birth, premature death, and a lowered quality of life for local residents. This is a criminal action where the crimes are being perpetrated by a veil of immunity for elected officials. The San Joaquin Valley is governed no differently than Flint, Michigan.

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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.