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San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Awarded $3.7 Million to Improve Valley Air Quality

Fresno, CA – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced this week it would award the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD) over $3.7 million for two projects the District is spearheading to improve Valley air quality by reducing heavy-duty diesel vehicle emissions.

The SJVAPCD was awarded the federal funding through the EPA’s Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) grants program and will match the federal dollars with SJVAPCD funds for both projects. Congressman Costa has been a longtime supporter of the DERA program, most recently joining his House colleagues in advocating for continued and robust program support in the 2019 Fiscal Year spending bill.

“The Valley faces unique challenges when it comes to improving our air quality, and I applaud the District for designing effective programs that both meet the real needs in the San Joaquin Valley and deservingly earn federal support,” said Valley Congressman Jim Costa (CA-16). “Our communities are best served when local, state, and federal leaders work together, and I look forward to continuing to work with the District to make our air cleaner and to build a stronger and healthier Valley for all of us.”

The first project will replace over 100 heavy-duty diesel trucks in the Valley with newer trucks, while the second will replace 100 diesel-powered agricultural tractors with new off-road agricultural equipment. Both projects require the new replacement vehicles to have dramatically lower emissions than the older vehicles, meeting or even exceeding current EPA emission standards.

Agriculture and trucking are critical for the Valley’s economy, and both currently rely on diesel-fueled vehicles or equipment that are a significant source of air pollution. These projects aim to support the Valley’s economic needs while also improving the region’s air quality and health.

“Agriculture is essential to the success of the San Joaquin Valley. The District will continue working with Valley growers, EPA, and other agencies to keep moving forward with clean air efforts and investments in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Samir Sheikh, SJVAPCD Executive Director and Air Pollution Control Officer.

 

Congressman Jim Costa Says San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Awarded $3.7 Million to Improve Valley Air Quality, Press Release, Sierra Sun Times, October 29, 2018.

Fresno still ‘ground zero’ for terrible air. Why did Valley Air District blow off major hearing?

They came to Fresno from all over California and the West to make their voices heard in the struggle for clean air.

Air quality officials, politicians, doctors, activists, ordinary citizens — they all turned out for a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency public hearing to speak out against the Trump Administration’s proposed weakening of vehicle emissions regulations. Representatives of the auto industry gave the opposing view.

The Sept. 24 hearing in downtown Fresno was one of three held that week across the nation. Why Fresno? Because, in the words of California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols, the San Joaquin Valley is “ground zero for the most stubbornly persistent violations of air standards.”

Yes, that’s the air we breathe every day.

The hearing lasted 12 hours. More than 125 people signed up to speak. Colleague Barbara Anderson procured a list, and I scanned the names looking for someone from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. You know, the folks who, according to their home page, are “committed to improving the health and quality of life for all Valley residents.”

But guess what? I couldn’t find Executive Director Samir Sheikh, or anyone else. A public hearing over a rollback of vehicle emissions standards was held in Fresno, and no one from the Valley Air District deemed it important enough to attend.

Don’t you find that a bit odd? I do.

Wayne Nastri’s name was on the list of speakers. Nastri is executive director of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, where the air is sometimes even dirtier than ours. His office is in Diamond Bar, 245 miles away, but still took the time and made the effort to get to Fresno.

So I called to find out why.

“Because we think this rollback would have a strong adverse effect on our ability to clean the air here in Southern California,” SCAQMD spokesman Sam Atwood said. “He’ll travel anywhere he feels is needed to get that message across loud and clear.”

Jack Broadbent, air pollution control officer for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, came from San Francisco to speak. Why did he feel it was important?

“The stakes are incredibly high,” replied Kristine Roselius, BAAQMD spokesperson. “A rollback of the standards would pump additional pollution into our community and obstruct our agency from carrying out its mission to protect Bay Area residents from air pollution.”

“It was very important that our voice be heard,” Roselius added.

Of course I contacted the Valley Air District, whose office is in central Fresno, to find out why no one from the bureaucracy entrusted with improving our health didn’t raise its voice, on our behalf.

Days passed and I received no reply from Sheikh. Eventually, spokeswoman Jaime Holt emailed back to say Sheikh was “not available this week” and that we might be able to speak Tuesday “but I will need to double check.”

As for the question of why no one from the Valley Air District attended the EPA hearings, Holt said, “We didn’t have top-level staff available to attend and submitted written comments.”

Sorry, but that’s not good enough. The executive director of the Valley Air District earns more than $300,000 in annual salary. With benefits, his pay exceeds $400,000. A good chunk is taxpayer money.

Surely, Sheikh could have found the time for such an important hearing, one held in his backyard. If not, he could have designated someone else. The air district website lists more than 100 employees.

To be fair, I read the comments Sheikh submitted. (The language is so dense it took me a couple passes.) In essence, Sheikh seems to be saying, “We can’t meet the Clean Air Act as is, and mobile pollutants caused by vehicle emissions are state and federal responsibilities, not ours.”

One explanation for the absence could be that Valley Air District officials, as guided by the governing board, are quietly pleased at President Trump’s efforts to weaken our environmental laws, even if that means dirtier air for you and I. Why? Because the end result would take the heat off them.

Such is the contention of local environmental activist Kevin Hall.

“The last thing they’re going to do is send (Sheikh) into an EPA hearing and object to a rollback of regulations when that’s just what they’re looking for themselves,” Hall said. “They want to remove deadlines and penalties for air districts like ours that continue to fail. In other words, they want to legalize their 28 years of a failed process.”

I’m not going to double down on Hall’s comments, but it does make you think.

It is curious that the Valley Air District’s own legislative platform seeks to amend the Clean Air Act. The district’s critics would substitute the word “weaken.” Officials prefer “streamline” and “simplify.”

But that’s a subject for another day. For now, let’s leave it here: Fresno hosted a major EPA hearing on vehicle emissions, one of three held across the nation, and our local air officials no-showed.

Which is definitely a bit odd.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee

 

Fresno still ‘ground zero’ for terrible air. Why did Valley Air District blow off major hearing?, by Marek Warszawski, The Fresno Bee, October 8, 2018.

9 companies, individuals honored for clean air practices by South Coast Air Quality Management District

Singled out for advancements in clean air technologies, improving public health and reducing greenhouse gases while growing the Southern California economy, nine companies and individuals received awards for their work on Friday in Los Angeles.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District held its 30th Annual Clean Air Awards ceremony at the Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, honoring the following recipients:

• Dr. Keith Black, a professor of neurosurgery and director of the Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Brain Tumor Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center did extensive work in establishing a link between coarse air pollutants — such as fine particulates found in diesel exhaust — and brain tumor development.

His team at Cedars-Sinai also found that exposure to particulates may cause genetic changes in the brains of laboratory rats.

Black, a surgeon, has performed more than 6,000 operations and has published 300 peer-reviewed scientific papers.

• GRID Alternatives Inland Empire and its affiliates train 16-24 year-olds how to install solar panels while providing job training.

Their program, Solar Futures, brings college students during spring and summer breaks to low-income communities in Southern California to build solar and other clean-energy projects.

• Cal State Los Angeles’ EcoCAR 3’s Advanced Vehicle Training Competition, with sponsorships from GM and the U.S. Department of Energy, sparked interest in fossil-fuel alternatives for cars and other vehicles.

The four-year competition from 2014-2018 involved a redesign of a 2016 Chevrolet Camaro into an ultimate, energy-efficient vehicle. The student team also built a plug-in hybrid for the police service.

• Speaking of electric cars, Tesla was awarded for its zero-emission, all-electric truck, which has a range of 300-500 miles.

Tesla’s clean air cars, models S, X and 3, have saved more than 3.5 million tons of carbon dioxide so far. CO2 is a major contributor to greenhouse gases, which stay trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere for decades heating up the planet and altering climate events.

• In the area of cleaner trains, Metrolink, the six-county regional commuter rail service, upgraded its fleet of diesel-powered locomotives to become the first passenger rail service to operate Tier 4 F125 locomotives.

These cleaner-burning engines reduce emissions by 85 percent with 57 percent more horsepower. The changes in its fleet removes 13.75 tons of emissions per year, or equivalent to 783 passenger vehicles annually.

• State Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, was honored for his bill, SB 350, signed into law, which requires 50 percent of the electricity consumed in the state to come from renewable sources by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045.

• The city of Paramount was honored for addressing high levels of hexavalent chromium detected by the SCAQMD near metal-processing companies.

The city created an action project that included more code enforcement to aid AQMD inspectors and the launch of ParamountEnvironment.org to keep the public informed.

• As for electric buses, newcomer Proterra, with a factory in City of Industry,  built zero-emission buses for Foothill Transit in West Covina and other transit agencies in the country.

Protera in 2017 set the world record for driving the longest distance ever on a single battery charge — an electric bus drove 1,101 miles with 660 kilowatt-hours of energy storage.

• Los Angeles World Airports, owner and operator of LAX and Van Nuys Airport, adopted a strategic plan with sustainability as a main objective.

The plan targets reductions in greenhouse gases to below 1990 levels; expansion of electric vehicle use; use of airplane biofuel and employee rideshare programs and the FlyAway bus service.

 

9 companies, individuals honored for clean air practices by SCAQMD, by Steve Scauzillo, by The San Gabriel Valley Tribune, October 5, 2018.