By Tom Frantz
Last month, I wrote about the false “Air Alert” declared in August by our Valley Air Board. The alert involved a big media campaign asking people to carpool and not idle their cars so the Valley could avoid violating the one-hour ozone standard. Ironically, there was zero chance of a violation during the three days of the alert because the weather was not conducive to ozone buildup.
The Air Board repeated the same stunt in September. It called another alert with the same results. On none of the alert days did ozone levels get closer than 80% of the health standard.
Now that the ozone season is over, the Valley Air Board is bragging about the success of these “fake” alerts and taking credit for the absence of one-hour ozone violations this summer. Unfortunately, crying “wolf” so many times is going to lose the attention of the public. It is certainly diverting the public’s attention away from the serious air quality problems that remain.
Similarly, the chief officer of the Air Board, Seyed Sadredin, appeared on Bill Manders’ talk show in Fresno on Aug. 19. You can listen to the interview online at Powertalk 96.7.
Manders began the segment complaining bombastically about Valley car owners being forced to pay the $29 million fine for the Valley’s past violations of the one-hour ozone standard. Sadredin replied that the fine was indeed unfair and that an unreasonable Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C., was to blame.
At one point, Manders demands that Sadredin simply tell the federal government to get the hell out of our business. Sadredin replies that Manders is right and he and his air board have been trying to do that for a long time.
The show really took a turn into the twilight zone when Sadredin started blaming the wealthy Bay Area for much of our pollution and added that an additional 20% of our ozone problem is coming from China. He also claimed the regulations in the Clean Air Act were outrageous and said the fine was unfair because we have triple-digit unemployment in areas of the Valley (huh?).
Sadredin’s distortions and misstatements were obviously designed to appease Manders and his conservative radio audience. Unfortunately, Air Board members repeat these falsehoods at their public meetings. I can never forget how Skip Barwick of Visalia asked at his first meeting, “Who the hell is the EPA, anyway?”
The fact of the matter is the EPA has given our Air Board the authority to do whatever is necessary to get our air into compliance with federal health standards. They are first, and foremost, a public health agency assigned the job of making people’s lives more livable and protecting people from the pollution of big industry. As long as they choose to falsify openly the nature of our air quality problem, and as long as they choose to ignore the fact that more than 90% of our pollution is home grown, we are doomed to indefinitely suffer the health consequences of breathing the worst air in the nation.
During the radio interview, Sadredin emphasized his trips to Washington, where he has been asking for changes to the Clean Air Act. He has gone there to ask for leniency in meeting federal health standards and that we shouldn’t be punished when we fail. Given this agenda, it is doubtful these trips are legal. What he is doing, at the request of the Air Board, is lobbying on behalf of the biggest polluters in the Valley so they can continue their dirty business without further restrictions. Of course, this is being done at the expense of those suffering from this same pollution.
How ironic is it that the $29 million fine is supposed to be paid by the biggest polluters if they choose not to further reduce their pollution? Manders has a right to be upset because the fine was not intended for motorists in the first place.
Realistically, the only hope we have of getting healthy air here in the San Joaquin Valley is for the EPA to finally throw up its hands in disgust and take away the power it has given to the Valley Air District Board and give it to the State Air Board. We must have an objective body of decision makers in control of regulating pollution sources that do not put business profits over the suffering and health costs of contaminated air.
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.