Tom Frantz

Clearing the Air – November 2012

By Tom Frantz

Fact checking of candidate statements is a useful exercise during an election season. It is a rational response to politicians striving for public approval.

Our air board is made up of local politicians with a federal mandate to provide healthy air for us to breathe. Obviously, they need to be seen fulfilling this requirement but they also have to represent the powerful constituents they regulate such as the dairy industry, commercial developers and large oil companies. Given this conflict of interest, it seems reasonable and prudent for residents concerned about air quality to watchdog air board statements for their veracity.

In this regard, a recent press release from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District on Sept. 28 was examined shortly after it was printed in local papers. It declared an “air alert” asking people to reduce their driving and idling for a few days so that the Valley could avoid a potential one-hour ozone violation. These are the violations for which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires the air district to impose a $29 million fine annually on Valley pollution sources and which they choose to collect from private vehicle owners.

The press release stated proudly that for the first year ever there had not been any one-hour ozone violations in August and September. It also said the Valley recorded only one such violation the entire summer.

Both statements were blatantly false. In reality, the California Air Resources Board recorded for the Valley a violation in June, another two in July and two more in August.

Strangely, another press release went out on Oct. 1 from the air board announcing the same air alert. It used a lot of the same language as the first but left out the false statements mentioned above. It added some misleading information that vehicles cause 80% of the ozone-causing emissions in the Valley and explained it is important to reduce vehicle use during these air alerts.

The truth is much more complicated. Mobile sources cause 80% of the NOx emissions in the Valley but these gases are only half of the ozone problem. NOx mixes with volatile organic compounds to form ozone. The largest single source category of these other gases is factory dairies. Also, the statement falsely equated mobile sources with vehicles people drive.

In reality, commercial diesel trucks are by far the largest source of NOx emissions. All other mobile sources, including off-road equipment, tractors, forklifts and any engine that is moved around on wheels, actually emit more NOx than all the vehicles people drive to places like work, shopping and school.

Finally, both of these press releases implied that if the Valley could avoid an October one-hour ozone exceedance, we would be on track to demonstrate compliance with the standard and eliminate the annual $29 million fine. The truth is that enough violations have already occurred this year to automatically make both this year and next year into non-compliance periods.

The reality covered up in these press releases is that the Valley has now violated this critical one-hour health standard four years in a row including the deadline year of 2010 and next year. We are on schedule to pay the fine for four years running, and there is no end in sight.

These press releases were clearly designed to make the air board look good. The “air alert” may have worked to avoid a violation in October but, in truth, we have had no October violations of this standard for seven years.

Our foul air is damaging our health and we don’t need misinformation from the air board to cover up this harmful and avoidable situation. There is a demonstrated need for a vigilant public to make sure we get good information about something as critical as air quality.

As they say, “It is always a good idea when the chickens are being preyed upon by wolves to make sure the fox guarding the hen house has some integrity.”

*****

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.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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