Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Air district board briefly confused by EPA proposal

For 15 embarrassing minutes, the local air board this week seemed as confused as the public about the federal government’s new particle pollution standard.

But the confusion did make a point. There are so many different air-quality plans, updates and bureaucratic requirements that even people who should know the score are sometimes lost.

On Thursday, several board members of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District were poised to purposely miss a federal deadline for a plan to meet the 2006 hourly standard.

It seemed pointless and expensive to approve the $1 billion cleanup for an out-of-date standard.
Why not take a little extra time to rewrite it to focus on the new standard?

But a representative of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told them that the proposed change is for a different standard — the annual particle standard.

The board quickly and unanimously voted to approve the cleanup plan, which should clear the air by 2019.

Confusing air standards will save lives

The federal government last week announced a new standard for dangerous bits of soot, chemical and other debris — saying it will save hundreds of lives when the air is clear in 2020.

On Thursday, the local air district will consider a plan with a 2019 timeline to clean up this debris. So, we’re fine with the new standard, right? Not exactly.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is not talking about the new standard announced last week. It’s talking about a new standard announced a few years ago.

And, like most new standards, the Valley can’t possibly meet this one in time to avoid a problem with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

If you’re thinking this is confusing, you’re right. The Valley and the Los Angeles area’s South Coast Air Basin are still struggling to keep up with older standards, much less achieving new ones.

Every few years when medical research advances and regulators realize the old standards are not protecting people, we get a new drama in the Valley and South Coast.

That’s always going to be the case. South Coast has 16 million people and big challenges with the warm weather. The Valley is surrounded by mountains and has even bigger challenges with weather.

The confusion and drama are worth it only because the air quickly becomes a public health crisis at times in the Valley. The EPA was not exaggerating when it reported that lives would be saved with a particle pollution standard that cuts the soot and other debris by 20%.

Who are the people who die prematurely due to this pollution? Think about people you know who have heart, lung or other severe health problems. It could be your grandfather, your aunt or even you.

A 2008 study by California State University at Fullerton showed that 800 people die prematurely in the Valley each year. Most of those deaths are blamed on microscopic soot, chemicals and other particles.

Economist Jane V. Hall, one of the Cal State Fullerton authors of the study, placed a value of more than $5 billion on the lives of those who die from bad air quality. It’s not actual money. It’s a value set by federal government based on risk and human life..

The whole process of cleaning the air under federal law is confusing and just a bit of a mess. But the plan under consideration Thursday at the local air district will make quite a difference. The new standard, which may seem completely out of reach right now, will help even more.

New system for eyewitness reports of hazards, illegal dumping

Fresno County residents today can begin reporting illegal dumping, pesticide drifts, vandalism, water contamination and many other  hazards or nuisances just by texting, emailing or calling.

They can use the Fresno Environmental Reporting Network, which is being launched by community groups, health advocacy organizations and government agencies, which have joined in a partnership.

The network, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is designed to eliminate layers of bureaucracy that might confuse people.

Based on a successful model in Imperial County, the network uses popular technology such as online reporting and texting so eyewitness accounts of local problems can be reported quickly and accurately, 24 hours a day.

Residents will generate the first set of community reports today, highlighting environmental and health violations they see in their own communities.