By Kevin Hall
Editor’s note: Long-time readers will remember Kevin Hall’s column that ran regularly in the Community Alliance for several years as he fought pollution in the San Joaquin Valley as a Sierra Club volunteer. We’re pleased to report he’s back in action and has asked us to again carry his dispatches from the front. As dedicated breathers, we’re happy to oblige.
“It’s like déjà vu all over again”
Returning to the field as a member of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition in the deadly game of polluters versus breathers, those immortal words of baseball’s Yogi Berra are ringing in my ears. A decade ago, Valley activists filed lawsuits against the EPA for ignoring Clean Air Act requirements to act on a pollution-reduction plan submitted by our air board and against the Valley air district for refusing to pass cleanup rules it had committed to. Those agencies are again attempting a double steal in virtually the same way, and Valley activists are again being forced to the courts.
In another replay, the industry-government alliance that rules the Fresno-based air board is demanding research into particulates from China and will soon be claiming they can’t pass rules until the findings are in. In response to such criticisms, the agencies’ spin doctors echo another quote from Berra, who once explained, “Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true.”
And there are more lies to come. Consider this summer’s shutout by the Arvin Nine, aka the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District Board of Directors. For many years, this agency’s headquarters was home to an air-monitoring station of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) that continually reported the highest levels of pollution and the greatest numbers of dirty air days in the Valley.
The Nine, representatives from large farming interests who do a lot of trucking, resented the state air board’s new regulations on diesel trucks—long overdue rules for one of the largest sources of pollution and cancer-causing toxins. As an act of retribution, they refused to renew the CARB’s lease for the station. It’s been replaced by a mobile station a few miles away where the number of violations has dropped precipitously. Not only did the Valley air board stay mute, but district staff and board will soon be misrepresenting the drop in violations as proof of their success. Like a steroid-laden player’s home-run record, the tarnished numbers should forever carry an asterisk.
Out of Right Field
But the most threatening example of déjà vu all over again is the Valley air district’s proposal to open an emission-reduction credit (ERC) bank for greenhouse gases. ERCs are salable, tradable pollution. Theoretically, they are created when a polluter exceeds the reduction requirements of a rule or installs cleanup equipment before the rule is enacted. But as the ever-wise Berra once said, “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.”
The practice of the air district is to signal rulemaking years in advance, delaying as long as possible to allow polluters to bank credits for pollution they should have reduced years earlier. Worse yet, when the district was formed 20 years ago, it immediately created an ERC bank for pollutants by grandfathering in vast amounts of faulty credits. In short, the polluters were allowed to run up the score before the game ever began.
And now they want to do it again, but with the most serious pollution problem we’ll ever face—global warming. The PR machine at the air district will claim it is in everyone’s best interest, but the majority of this agency’s board and the industry lobbyists who control them are coming at this from the far right field of the political spectrum. They are climate deniers of the first order who, in anticipation of greenhouse gas reduction requirements from the state, will cynically exploit the crisis no matter the cost.
We live on a new planet—in a new valley—permanently altered by climate change. As Berra put it, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” The future will be what we make it. We need you on the team at any position you want to play. We need you now, on the field, not in the bleachers. Drop me a line and we’ll sign you up.
Kevin Hall is director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition based in Fresno and online at www.calcleanair.org and on Facebook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.