By Kevin Hall
The Valley Mind-set
“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”—Albert Einstein
Each January, the Valley Air Board—that tea-guzzling bunch of local politicos who determine the fate of millions—sets its legislative priorities for the year. At the top of the list for 2013: “Seek common sense improvements to the Federal Clean Air Act.” You can see where this is going, right? It’s a very, very dark place.
Einstein’s astute observation of how people, especially rube politicians, place too much store in their own common sense could not be more easily proven true than a cursory look at how this board sets its priorities. Let’s just say this is not a reality-based process.
Rather, the full brunt of the board’s prejudices will be brought to bear on our region’s Congressional delegation, calling on such luminaries as Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R–Bakersfield)and Rep. Jeff Denham (R–Atwater) to “update” the Act. They won’t get far, but these contradictions of right-wing common sense will be used to justify further inaction by the most important public health agency in the San Joaquin Valley.
The most radical changes being proposed are the elimination of firm deadlines for clean air and an end to public health as the primary consideration when setting those deadlines. Really. The idea is to have a health-based standard but to then simply hope to achieve that standard with no firm date for success, much less penalties for failure. What youthful prejudices carried into middle age have shaped these minds?
It is a mind-set often referred to as the “plantation mentality,” and it runs rampant through our region’s elected officials and their supporters from Big Ag, Big Oil and Big Sprawl. In short, they were raised to feel entitled to a guarantee of White privilege, to worship the private sector and to distrust government. Underlying that is an active disregard for people of color and low income.
As former Sierra Club leader Carl Pope once pointed out, racism is like a virus. People can have it and not even realize it. He wrote, “You don’t have to intend to spread a virus; you may not even know you are infected.” And what that “virus of racial and ethnic hatred” wants to do is “replicate itself.”
After two decades of replication within the institution of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, to rise within its employee ranks and stay there for an extended period of time, at some level one must carry that infection and support its manifestations.
Air, Water and Land
Speaking of manifestations, the Valley Air Board’s priorities don’t stop at the Clean Air Act. Also high on their list of important public protections to attack is the California Environmental Quality Act, a law that has served our state well for more than 40 years by limiting air and water pollution and conserving natural areas.
What both laws have in common, and what critics want to weaken or eliminate, is the public voice. Much like the federal Clean Air Act’s guarantees of citizen oversight of air pollution regulations, California has no law other than our environmental quality act to ensure the public’s chance to weigh in on land-use decisions. Major polluters and sprawl developers are moving against it, mostly through members of the state legislature but also through local politicians.
While the attacks at the federal level are serious, attempts to weaken the California Environmental Quality Act are real and immediate. State Sen. Michael Rubio (D–Bakersfield) is leading the charge, and Valley residents from Fresno to Bakersfield must voice their concerns directly to him. For more information, visit www.CEQAWorks.org and learn how to get involved.
Bonus link: For a firsthand look at common sense in action at the Valley Air Board, go to the following link and listen to the new chair: http://airqualityguy.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/two-videos-about-air-pollution-in-the-san-joaquin-valley/. This was created by longtime clean air advocate and local hero Tom Frantz.
Kevin Hall is director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition based in Fresno, online at www.calcleanair.org and on Facebook. 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. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at SJVair.