By Tom Frantz
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (the Air Board) has just approved its annual report to the community for 2013. The report details the marvelous job the Air Board has done without referring once to the continuing premature deaths, heart failures, asthma attacks, general illnesses and lost workdays that are related to the Valley’s “worst air in the nation” status.
In this brief column, you can read the rest of the story.
The Air Board takes full credit for a year that was relatively good for ozone pollution due to favorable weather this past summer. The Valley experienced only 92 violations of the eight-hour ozone standard in 2013. This represented around a 6% decline in violations since 2009. Unfortunately, it was still worse than anywhere else in the nation and the Valley is not on track to reach the 2023 federal deadline whereby all monitors in the Valley have to be below the 1997 health standard.
The Air Board recently declared victory over the 1991 one-hour ozone standard. Unfortunately for the public, the manipulation of monitors in the worst parts of the Valley (Arvin) and the use of dubious science to cancel a couple of violations in Fresno will cause the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to deny the claim, and motorists will continue to pay the $29 million fine as a surrogate for the biggest polluters in the Valley.
In its report, the Air Board continues the lie, based on indefensible statistical analysis, that up to 23% of the ozone in the southern end of the Valley is from China. I am sure we will hear that whopper many more times in the coming year.
The Air Board also explains in its report how it will manipulate state-mandated new data and accounting methods for risk from toxic and hazardous emissions. Instead of recognizing the need for tighter regulations with this new information, the air district brazenly claims it will simply adjust the permitting thresholds as necessary so that no polluting business has to change its current practices. This doesn’t make sense, but that is what the Air Board says it is going to do.
Out of the blue, the Air Board decided to address fracking in its report. In regard to air quality impact from increased fracking in the Monterey shale, the current storyline of the Air Board is that fracking is such an efficient way to get oil out of the ground that it prevents additional wells from being drilled. This, in turn, actually reduces the air quality impact from oil production. So, let’s frack! It is apparently good for air quality.
Finally, there is no mention in the annual report of the horrible PM 2.5 levels experienced during the last three weeks of December 2013. These pollution levels were unprecedented since steady monitoring began around 2002. The pollution was so bad in 2013 that it totally slammed the door on Air Board claims of being on track to meet the original fine particulate matter standards by the 2014 deadline.
We will never know the exact number of people who died prematurely during December and early January because of the clogging of their arteries and the damage to their heart tissue from these obscenely high fine particulate levels. We will never know how many people visited doctors and emergency rooms because they were unable to breathe properly during this time. We also don’t know how many workdays were lost and how many children missed school. But, the numbers were no doubt large. This was exactly the kind of air pollution episode that costs the Valley economy billions of dollars in direct and indirect costs annually.
But, this episode of bad air was simply ignored. Instead, there are actual claims in the report that we are right on track to meet the 2014 goals.
We always get these lies, distortions and omissions in these annual reports. The Air Board believes this propaganda to be true. When it is criticized, the Air Board claims the situation is complicated and it is the critics who are ignorant.
The public is going to have to demand that the California Air Resources Board and the EPA exert more authority over the Air Board. It must be given a shorter leash and trained to be a true health agency. Its authority might have to be removed entirely. This idea of lying to the public about progress and protecting polluting businesses from further regulation has got to stop sooner rather than later.
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.