Clearing the Air: Undermining Public Health with Pollution Credits

Clearing the Air: Undermining Public Health with Pollution Credits
Flag City Flying J Fuel. Image by Paul Sullivan via Flickr Creative Commons.

By Tom Frantz

According to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (air district) there are hundreds of industries in the valley polluting our filthy air with what are considered “surplus emissions”. These are emissions of air pollution which do not need to be decreased because we will supposedly be able to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards by other means and consequently experience a life expectancy equal to other regions in the state.

Obviously there would be a health benefit if these “surplus emissions” were decreased. We would certainly get cleaner air and it might happen sooner than planned. Unfortunately, it will never happen. If these “surplus emissions” are ever decreased they are simply credited to another entity at great profit to the original polluter. Some businesses actually shut down because they can make more money from the pollution they stop than from continuing to operate. The general public, of course, gains no benefit from this air district contrived pollution trading.

Given we have the worst air in the nation and negative health effects on local residents, costing residents billions of dollars annually, it is really incomprehensible that there is such a thing as sources of air pollution that are considered “surplus”.

Now, it is fine to occasionally pay some incentive funding for reductions in air pollution that are not required by law. It may also be ok to award a facility with greatly discounted credits they can sell if they “voluntarily” reduce air pollution without any legal requirement to do so. But, to allow a big polluter to profit from their pollution when they close up shop is illogical. They have harmed public health for years so why should they get paid for their filth when their business is no longer profitable?

When a bunch of local cotton gins shut down this past decade, because of a huge agricultural shift from annual to permanent crops, they were given millions of dollars worth of emission reduction credits for reducing fine particulate matter. Never mind that these cotton gins were demolished and almond hullers were built in their place. The almond harvest, ironically, puts more fine particulates into the air than the cotton harvest.

Then, there are the two coal burning plants in Kern County which shut down last year because they were too dirty to get power purchase agreements from major electrical providers. They were essentially forced to close their doors because of California clean energy rules. They would not have been permitted to operate today. But, they were given emission reduction credits by our air district. They were two of the top twenty polluters in the entire valley. A Japanese company bought these two plants as they were shutting down because they can dismantle them for scrap and they will eventually get over $8 million dollars selling these pollution credits to new polluters.

These credits are often bought by new facilities as mitigation for their pollution. Purchasing and selling these credits is a multi-million dollar Wall Street type business administered by the air district which gets a cut off of every transaction.

A majority of the credits are owned by either pollution brokers or the oil industry. The brokers make their money off of sales and speculation. The oil companies shut down antiquated equipment and use the credits to offset their increasingly more energy intensive methods of oil extraction.

The air district maintains a banking system for all these credits. Some are more than 30 years old, predate the air district itself, but are still good for offsetting new pollution today.

There are at least 40,000 tons of credits in the bank for various types of unhealthy air pollutants. The value of these credits is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. On top of that, the air district recently started banking green house gas (GHG) emission reduction credits. They do this on their own without oversight from state, federal, or world entities. Their purpose is not to reduce global warming but to allow new sources of GHG emissions to have a cheap means to offset them if required by a local government or judge. There are currently over 400,000 tons of these GHG credits on the books at the air district and transactions have already taken place affecting more than a hundred thousand tons.

Basically, this matter of emission reduction credits is all a scam on the public. It is the public that suffers the effects of breathing polluted air and the effects of a warming planet. This is done because the air district Board of Directors demands that new sources of pollution be permitted in the valley with minimal expense for mitigation purposes. They are running this pseudo health agency with the sole purpose of limiting the impacts of state and federal clean air rules on local polluting businesses. It is profit over people taken to the extreme and the public be damned.


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


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