By Tom Frantz
Members of the San Joaquin Valley Air Board are often heard blaming our pollution problems on the diesel trucks traveling Valley highways nonstop between Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Some, like Skip Barwick of Visalia, have publicly cried foul that more than 50% of Valley truck traffic is of this nature.
Blaming our lousy air quality on outside sources of pollution is a longstanding Air Board strategy. It is one way they shirk their responsibility as a health agency to protect the breathing public. They also refuse to acknowledge that we have the worst air in the nation, causing tens of thousands of people to suffer a lifetime of illness and to die prematurely. It is especially tragic when they misrepresent the truth in order to justify their failure to provide healthy air.
The Air Board certainly needs to better understand the nature of truck traffic in the Valley if they don’t wish to be seen as either stupid or callous liars. It is true that diesel trucks are a large source of the types of emissions that cause ozone and form particulate matter. The official pollution inventories show diesel trucks accounting for a full 20% of the direct and precursor emissions that make up our air pollution burden. But what percentage of the diesel trucks we see every day has no origin or destination in the Valley? The answer is a lot smaller than what our Air Board members are telling us.
In June 2012, the San Joaquin Valley Regional Transportation Planning Agency released a technical memorandum/study describing the flow of goods through and around the Valley (www.sjvcogs.org/pdfs/2012/2012-06-14%20Task%204.pdf).
Out of 500 million tons of annual freight moved throughout the Valley each year, trucks carry 92% and rail carries 8%.
The study shows that more than 90% of this tonnage is either inbound, outbound or intraregional. In other words, little freight moves through the Valley without stopping somewhere.
The numbers above show that less than one percent of our air pollution is from diesel trucks that pass through the Valley without stopping to do business. Dramatically inflating this figure is a callous political lie designed to protect the politicians while lives are ruined.
Here are some other facts from the goods movement study. Nearly 100% of local rail carries stuff meant for the Valley. Interestingly, about 50% of the total rail tonnage is feed for animals. This should not be surprising when you consider that our three million cows consume a tremendous amount of corn and soy from the Midwest.
The largest category of goods carried by trucks in the Valley is agricultural commodities at approximately 100 million tons per year. Raw milk from dairies is 20 million tons of that. Processed food, including milk and cheese, is another 20 million. The Valley also receives 12 million tons of waste annually by truck, including sewage sludge, fuel for biomass incinerators and hazardous waste.
So what should the Air Board be doing instead of putting up a smokescreen of helplessness?
The answer lies in the need to strengthen their Indirect Source Rule. This rule applies currently to new housing where a fee must be paid to mitigate pollution from the increased traffic flow. The Air Board has declined to apply this rule to new sources such as distribution centers, which involve lots of trucking.
Walmart, Target, Ikea and Best Buy are a few of the better-known names that have their regional distribution centers in the Valley. They have located here in the past 20 years to take advantage of cheap land and cheaper labor.
Most of these facilities obtained local county or city construction permits and the Air Board was nowhere to be seen asking them to account for their traffic pollution. The same is true for sewage sludge dumps, hazardous waste dumps, biomass incinerators and food processing centers. They all involve massive amounts of trucking, and they all are getting a free ride from the Air Board.
If each one of these businesses had been required to fully mitigate their trucking pollution, we would have significantly cleaner air today.
It is never too late for the Air Board to start telling us the truth and doing their job.
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.