Headless Chicken Set ponders Valley air pollution

Greed makes for a debased ideology. I know we Americans pride ourselves on being pragmatic and above ideology, but the last six years should have shown us the limitations of that pretense. It isn't that we don't need ideology, but greed is the wrong basis. Self-interest, reflectively considered, is better. None of us planning to live our lives in the Valley have any reflective self-interest in the current, cynical state of air pollution politics. Yet the ideology of greed proclaims that we must grow and grow and grow and build more highways to accommodate the increased traffic from the growth. Greed compels us to believe "growth is inevitable." Greed forces us to believe there is nothing we can do, no policies we can create, that can stand in the way of the developers' bulldozer blade.

Greed is a liar and believing greed makes liars of us all. Growth is not "inevitable." A glance at American economic history, or the history of any other Western industrial society, will show that growth booms and growth busts, just like the recent speculative housing boom in the Valley. Growth is in fact killing the planet. Corporate business responds by buying science to cast doubt on the reality of global warming. Perhaps money ought not be the final arbiter of absolutely every public policy, but as long as business owns government, money remains the final arbiter.

Wal-Mart spokesman Keith Morris said his company is "absolutely aware" of residents' concerns about how the distribution center would affect Merced's air. He said Wal-Mart agreed to expand the project's environmental review to help better address those concerns.

That extra analysis added $38,695 to the environmental report's $344,655 price and delayed it by a few months.

"It delays the project, but if it gives everybody a comfort level that these things have been thoroughly evaluated, then it's absolutely the right thing to do," Morris said.

Nowhere locally is this cynicism of money clearer than in the world of San Joaquin Valley air pollution politics. Entering the maze of agencies involved in so-called regulation of our breathing problems is guaranteed to drive a public spirited soul concerned with elemental health and safety issues to a state of gibbering idiocy, at which point she would achieve intellectual unity with agency administrators who make their livings in this particular amusement park.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for monitoring mobile emission sources – trucks and cars that account for 80 percent of the air quality problem. The EPA has recently announced gasoline should use less benzene. This decision was the result of a lawsuit.

The state Air Resources Board and the regional boards like San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, are responsible for stationary emission sources. They look dimly upon farmers’ pumps and other stationary motors but somehow miss the impact of milk trucks. When bond money is generated, CARB has a hand in its distribution. The big plan for the Valley is to use bond money to pay for less polluting cars and trucks. It’s a win-win, public-private partnership!

Then come the CAGs and COGs, countywide or regional associations of the incorporated land-use authorities. These groups, made up almost exclusively of developer-bought local elected officials, are morphodite institutions, combining an alleged concern for air quality with real greed for transportation growth. Given that nothing beyond a speculative investment boom is more growth-inducing than more highways and expressways, the COGs and CAGs are nothing but regional lobbyists for federal highway funds, agencies involved with making sure air pollution issues are safely filed where the sun don’t shine. Lately, they have been peddling – with indifferent success – the idea that local citizens, actually the victims of speculative housing development, ought to pony up more sales taxes so that the local COG or CAG can get its proposals for more new roads and wider highways to the top of the stack at the state Department of Transportation, where the proposals must go before they go to the Federal Highway Authority, the Grandmother of All Pork Barrels. Although Merced has been a national leader in overpriced homes, speculative investment and now falling real estate prices and foreclosures, the people of the county have rejected three such invitations from their CAG to pony up an annual bribe for CalTrans.

Local political genius, Merced City Councilman Bill Spriggs, was the manager of the latest effort, which failed by more than the primary campaign did for the CalTrans bribe. Spriggs reportedly stomped his feet and yelled as newly elected state Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, for not supporting his road-bribe campaign. Galgiani, in an unexpectedly close race, went with the voters rather than the Temper-Tantrum Spriggs, who noted that his sales-tax campaign got more votes in Merced County than Galgiani did. Galgiani didn't need more votes than the CalTrans bribe initiative to win. She needed enough to win. Spriggs lost.

Beyond the COG/CAG level, we now have regional planning partnerships and blueprints. One of the co-chairs of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley is Stockton developer Fritz Grupe. Grupe recently pulled out of a deal to build 3,000 homes from Riverbank to McHenry Ave. last week, and now disputes he owes Riverbank the price of an updated general plan. Was that decision caused by the slump in housing prices or by how working on a partnership for growth from Stockton to Bakersfield has somehow sensitized the developer to the impacts of growth?

All Valley leadership is now marching to a unified theme: We must accept the designation of “severe non-attainment” of air quality goals. Although last year we achieved real parity with Los Angeles as the worst air pollution zone in the nation, this year we will achieve official recognition of this feat. By accepting the lowest standard in the nation, previously achieved only by Los Angeles, the lower the standards we will have to meet and put the date forward. This means that we will be eligible for the immediate future for federal highway funds to build more expressways and wider highways to induce more growth to further lower air quality standards. But, do not think that government is being stupid here. Government knows exactly what it is doing and for whom it is doing it. It only boggles the minds of people concerned about global warming, public health and safety, open space, the future of agriculture and habitat for endangered species.

Although Money buys enormous propaganda campaigns to promote its moral pretensions, It has no values at all beyond its own multiplication.

This was as far as we could get with our analysis of air pollution politics in the San Joaquin Valley. There are further levels. Boards, commissions, and other bodies – all appointed by politicians owned by developers – exist and overlay like fancy new GIS maps the actually elected local officials responsible for land-use decisions in California. Government’s approach to air pollution in the Valley is that whenever one agency gets a little too much heat – whenever the public appears that it might focus on one or a set of regulators to the point of actually achieving some air pollution control – government applies another layer of bureaucratic smog.

Two recent developments are noteworthy. First, UC Merced is ambitiously planning a medical school because, according to its website, the San Joaquin Valley offers a living research laboratory of the effects of air pollution. Cool! Secondly, political consultants are popping up to fleece the boggled citizenry with various schemes for campaigns to make it all better. These efforts seem to rely heavily on the latest principles of public relations. Actually, however, people in the San Joaquin Valley are already aware of air pollution.

The way environmental law and regulation is set up at the federal and state levels, lawsuits remains almost the only way to contest bad decisions by land-use authorities and state and federal regulators. There are several ways to learn this. First, the public can read the bought science in the environmental reviews for the projects, and the subsequent briefs and judicial decisions where legal action is sought against the projects. These are all public documents and this is an area that can be studied and has been successfully studied and analyzed by members of the public. They are creations of the human mind that can be understood by the human mind. Secondly, one can observe the amount of bullying done by politicians. They are at once in the pay of the developers so must approve the projects. On the other hand, they have to manage the public, which they do, more and more frequently as time goes on and the environment gets worse, by intimidation. Third, the public is free to notice that local land-use authorities are now universally indemnified by developers against any legal expenses arising from court challenge to their developments. Fourth, there are the ceaseless efforts to politically and legally strip the environmental laws and regulations of their force. The Pomboza (Rep. Dennis Cardoza and former Rep. RichPAC Pombo) launched a notable effort to gut the Endangered Species Act last year. It cost Pombo his seat because environmentalists, when seriously provoked, are capable of effective political retaliation. But, developer attorneys work ceaselessly to erode existing law and regulation. Not content with constant attacks on environmental law, they also erode First Amendment rights and state government codes – all to get that next project in to profit a developer and finance, insurance and real estate interests behind the developer.

Periodically, physicians appear, unflanked by public health officials, make their dire pronouncements, and disappear, absorbed back into their mysterious and awesome guild. Even doctors think the air pollution is getting pretty bad, the newspapers dutifully report. There must be something to it.

The public is vastly superior in numbers, but disorganized compared with developers with their clear, simple profit motive in mind and bought elected officials with the same simple goal. However, the public could focus its energy immediately on a campaign to stop growth until adequate general plans are written and to stop forever the extremely corrupt practice of developer indemnification of legal expenses to land-use authorities that approve utterly environmentally irresponsible projects. If land-use authorities were made financially responsible for the legal consequences of their decisions, they might be more careful. If forced by the voters to make a real new general plan instead of one more consultant special cooked up in the usual backroom by the usual suspects, the process might focus their attention on the mess they have created and called “inevitable growth.”

San Joaquin Valley air pollution is going to get worse because nobody appears at the moment willing to fight it publicly beyond the odd press release, the occasional workshop, and the rare lawsuit. To appear to stand against “inevitable growth,” even in the midst of the worst real estate bust in Valley history, for a livable environment, and to cease making common cause with our own gravediggers, is too much for the Headless Chicken Set. And that is why we have air pollution policy and regulation in the Valley that has been designed by the State and National Win-Win Public-Private Consortium of Developers and Headless Chickens.

It’s a hard thing to explain to a kid with asthma, but the consortium no doubt has a grant to development literature for children.

Bill Hatch


Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process

We call for a moratorium on County General Plan amendments, variances, minor sub-divisions changes to existing projects, zoning changes, and annexations of unincorporated county land by municipal jurisdictions, MOU’s and developments with private interests and state agencies, until a new County general Plan is formulated by a fully authorized public process – and approved locally and by the appropriate state and federal agencies.
The continual process of piecemealing development through amendments, willfully ignoring the cumulative impacts to infrastructure and resources, for the benefit of a small cabal of public and private special interests, is illegal and reprehensible conduct on the by elected and appointed officials of local land-use authorities.
We also call for a permanent moratorium on indemnification of all local land-use jurisdictions by private and public-funded developers.
Indemnification is the widespread, corrupt practice in which developers agree to pay for all legal costs arising from lawsuits that may be brought against their projects approved by the land-use authority — city or county. Without having to answer to the public for the financial consequences of decisions made on behalf of special interests, local land-use authorities can be counted on to continue unimpeded their real policy: unmitigated sprawl, agricultural land and natural resource destruction, constant increases in utility rates, layering of school and transportation bonds on top of property taxes, and the steady erosion of the county’s infrastructure.
Adopted 2006

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Central Valley Safe Environment Network
Merced River Valley Association
Planada Association
Le Grand Association
Communities for Land, Air & Water
Planada Community Development Co.
Central Valley Food & Farmland Coalition
Merced Group of Sierra Club
Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge
California Native Plant Society
Stevinson Citizen’s Group
San Bruno Mountain Watch
San Joaquin Valley Chapter of Community Alliance with Family Farmers

Central Valley Safe Environment Network is a coalition of organizations and individuals throughout the San Joaquin Valley that is committed to the concept of “Eco-Justice” — the ecological defense of the natural resources and the people. To that end it is committed to the stewardship, and protection of the resources of the greater San Joaquin Valley, including air and water quality, the preservation of agricultural land, and the protection of wildlife and its habitat. In serving as a community resource and being action-oriented, CVSEN desires to continue to assure there will be a safe food chain, efficient use of natural resources and a healthy environment. CVSEN is also committed to public education regarding these various issues and it is committed to ensuring governmental compliance with federal and state law. CVSEN is composed of farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, environmentalists, ethnic, political, and religious groups, and other stakeholders.
P.O. Box 64, Merced, CA 95341

3,000 homes in Riverbank halted...Eve Hightower

A developer that had hoped to build a 3,000-home community on more than 850 acres northwest of Riverbank no longer is interested....Grupe, a Stockton-based developer, had agreements to buy the acreage to build an upscale community called The Bridges, so Riverbank would stretch almost to McHenry Avenue. Grupe also is no longer interested in paying for the city's general plan update. It already was paying toward a promised $400,000; the entire plan was expected to cost $500,000.
"Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. I thought Grupe was going to pay for it whether they built or not," Mayor Chris Crifasi said at a City Council meeting this week. Grupe pulled out last week, citing concerns about a slowdown in the housing market... This is not the first time that Grupe offered to pay for an overdue general plan that involved expanding city boundaries to include land Grupe was interested in developing. Grupe also helped pay for Waterford's update as the plan explores allowing development in an area where the company is interested in building a 350-acre subdivision called Lake Pointe.

Valley hit hard by falloff in home sales, prices...Martin Crutsinger
The slump in housing deepened in the final three months of last year with sales falling in 40 states and median home prices dropping in nearly half the metropolitan areas surveyed. While some economists said they believed the worst may be over for housing, others predicted more price declines to come until near-record levels of unsold homes are reduced. The National Association of Realtors said the states with the biggest declines in sales from October through December compared with the same period in 2005 were: Nevada, down 36.1 percent; Florida, down 30.8 percent; Arizona, down 26.9 percent; and California, down 21.3 percent. Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Economy.com, predicted that home prices in many parts of the country would continue to be under pressure for the rest of this year as the market works through still large inventories of unsold homes. "We are seeing the declines concentrated in the industrial Midwest, where the job market is a mess due to the layoffs in the auto industry, and in markets such as Florida and California" where a heavy influx of speculators had bid up prices, Zandi said.

Vacant and costly...J.N. Sbranti
Record numbers of homes are sitting vacant awaiting buyers in the United States. That's about 62 percent more than usual, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. The glut of vacant houses is readily apparent throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley, as bank foreclosures and former rental homes flood the for-sale market. Stanislaus and Merced counties, in fact, have among the highest foreclosure rates in California, according to the January 2007 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report from RealtyTrac.com. Stanislaus County had 355 homes in mortgage default and facing possible foreclosure in January. That means about one in 425 homes are in the process of being taken over by lenders. The situation is worse in Merced County, where 189 homes — or one in 362 existing homes — were in default in January. Porter said foreclosure rates tend to go up when the real estate market slumps because homeowners can't sell fast enough or get the price they need to save their homes from default. That combination of a slow sales market, weak rental market, soaring foreclosure rate and excess new home construction created the glut of vacant homes for sale, Porter said.

Merced Sun-Star
Two doctors voice opposition to Wal-Mart plan...Leslie Albrecht

Dr. John Holmes, a Merced orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Bob Vizzard, a Stockton emergency room physician, charged that fumes from diesel trucks driving to and from Wal-Mart's warehouse facility would damage Merced's already poor air quality and trigger asthma attacks and premature deaths. Consultants are studying the project's possible environmental impacts now; it won't go before the City Council for a vote until at least August, said Planning Manager Kim Espinosa. Holmes said measures to lessen the facility's impacts on air quality weren't sufficient. He accused the San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District of acting irresponsibly by working with Wal-Mart to lessen possible air quality damage. "How can you allow a polluting project in here when you can't even control or mitigate the pollution that you already have?" said Holmes, who was also a vocal opponent of the Riverside Motorsports Park. "It's obvious this is inappropriate." In August 2006, the air district requested that the environmental impact report on the proposed distribution center include what's called a human health risk assessment... When the draft of the environmental report is released, the public will have 45 days to submit comments on the document. After consultants prepare written responses to each comment, the Planning Commission will vote on whether to recommend certification of the environmental report and on whether to approve the project. That vote probably won't happen until late summer. After the Planning Commission's vote, the City Council will issue the final decision on the project, Espinosa said

Fresno Bee
Vanishing farmland...Editorial

Farming is the foundation of the Valley's economy, and a constant refrain hereabouts is that we need to save productive farmland from urban development. We're not doing a very good job of living up to those sentiments, though. A study just released by the state shows just how badly our deeds contradict our words: Urbanization of farmland in the Valley increased to an unprecedented pace in recent years, to the point that between 2002 and 2004, some 26 acres a day were being removed from farming and dedicated to other purposes. Fresno County led the state during that period in the pace of urbanization of its farmland. Other Valley counties posted significant losses. There are many reasons for this. Growth continues at a rapid rate, and people need homes and employment centers. Land is worth considerably more for development than it fetches as farm land. Some farmers can't wait to sell their land and cash in; others do so reluctantly -- but they do it, because the money is very seductive. Some are pushed out; they want to continue farming, but adjacent development brings pressure to get out of agriculture... The boom in housing construction in recent years accelerated the turnover of productive farm lands to urban uses. Los Angeles and Orange counties were once mighty producers of food, but there aren't even any commercial orange groves left in Orange County. Silicon Valley used to be a rich agricultural area; now the only things grown there are high-tech companies and expensive homes. That may be the fate of the Valley as well. But surely something important will be lost: There is no place on earth so well-suited to agriculture than the Valley. And the ramifications of losing all that domestic food production include an increased reliance on imports from other countries, with many attendant risks. There are ways to stop the loss of ag lands. Conservation easements and similar tools let farmers sell development rights, often in perpetuity, and remain in farming. Better planning could reduce the friction between urbanizing communities and surrounding farm operations. And cities like Fresno could start building up instead of out to accommodate population growth. But each of these solutions requires the will to employ them. And that's not much in evidence among elected officials and the special interests they often serve. So we may go on bemoaning the loss of the Valley's precious farm land -- and doing very little to slow or stop it. At least until we decide whether we really believe what we say.
Fresno Bee
State says San Joaquin Valley farmland being lost to development...AP

In just two years, more than 18,800 acres of farmland in several San Joaquin Valley counties became subdivisions, shopping malls or other developments, setting a new state record for loss of farmland, according to newly released state data. A healthy real estate and construction market spurred farmers in Fresno, Kings, Madera, Tulare and Merced counties to sell 18,801 acres between June 2002 and June 2004, said Molly Penberth, manager of the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program of the California Department of Conservation. Preliminary data from the program that tracks land development, found roughly 26 acres of farmland were removed from production each day in the two-year period...

Modesto Bee
Firm donated to backers of supervisors...Garth Stapley

A company in hot competition for Stanislaus County supervisors' approval of a large development project recently gave $33,000 to groups trying to influence the campaigns of two supervisors. PCCP West Park LLC contributed $28,364 to an Elverta group that produced mailers attacking the opponent of Supervisor Jeff Grover before his November re-election. West Park also donated $5,000 to a group that slammed Supervisor Dick Monteith. Tuesday, West Park pitched its multimillion-dollar development plan for the Crows Landing Air Facility to supervisors, including Grover and Monteith.
Air facility proposals take wing at Board of Supervisors meeting...Tim Moran
Opinions voiced Tuesday on the two proposals to develop the 1,528-acre former naval air base were varied...Texas-based Hillwood Inc. and Sacramento-based PCCP West Park LLC, each gave an hour synopsis at the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors meeting of how they wanted to develop the base. West Park plan sparks most comment... Official: Continue working together...Supervisors questioned the developers on farmland mitigation, potential housing development and any expectation of local government money. Both developers said they had no plans for housing outside of incorporated cities and also said they had no need for local subsidy. Kamilos said he favors farmland mitigation and will provide farmland easements to replace developed farmland on an acre-for-acre basis. Magness said he didn't think the board should require farmland mitigation on a military base redevelopment project, but said Hillwood will comply with whatever the board decides. The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the matter at its Feb. 27 meeting.

Fresno Bee
Explosive growth paves over farmland...Sanford Nax

The urbanization of farmland in the central San Joaquin Valley sped up between 2002 and 2004, with an equivalent of 26 acres converted to nonagricultural uses each day, according to newly released data. The amount of ag land in Fresno, Kings, Madera, Tulare and Merced counties converted to other uses in 2002-04 was a record -- and reflected an increase of 4,000 acres over the previous two-year period of 2000-02, the state reported. Fresno County lost more irrigated farmland in those two years than any other county in the state, closely followed by Kern County, said Molly Penberth, manager of the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program of the California Department of Conservation. Forty-three percent of the 18,801 acres removed from farm use in those five counties was in Fresno County, the No. 1 agriculture county in production value in the nation. The report, to be released in the next few months... The state also noted that Merced County's urbanized area grew by 1,852 acres from 2002 to 2004.

Washington Post
New EPA rules for gasoline limit benzene, a carcinogen...Juliet Eilperin
The Environmental Protection Agency issued rules yesterday that will dramatically cut toxic fumes from cars and trucks over the next 25 years...regulations, which will reduce the amount of cancer-causing benzene in gasoline and set tighter emission standards for autos in cold temperatures and for fuel containers, will help reduce toxic emissions from passenger cars by 80 percent from 1999 levels by 2030. Among air pollutants, benzene -- which naturally occurs in crude oil and is increased through refining to boost gasoline's octane rating -- poses the second-biggest cancer risk to Americans, after diesel emissions. Environmentalists, who had successfully sued EPA for failing to issue a benzene ruling by 2004, hailed yesterday's move but questioned the decision to allow refineries to trade emission credits.

New York Times
E.P.A. limits the benzene in gasoline by 2011...Felicity Barringer
The Environmental Protection Agency is requiring significant reductions in the amount of cancer-causing benzene and other toxic hydrocarbon gases in gasoline and released into the air during storage and use, under a rule released Friday. The final rule, issued under a court-ordered deadline set after environmental groups filed suit about two years ago, provides more uniform reductions around the country than the agency had originally proposed. The rule puts a ceiling on the total benzene content of any gasoline produced after 2011...rule limits opportunities for those refineries that are not meeting the benzene limit to meet their obligation by buying credits from other refineries whose gasoline more than meets the standard. In addition to the new benzene limits for gasoline, the new rule also orders cuts for benzene levels in tailpipe emissions and pungent benzene vapors escaping from gasoline cans. The agency estimated that the new rule, called the Mobile Source Air Toxics rule, would result in 33,000 tons of reductions by 2015... “Cars and trucks put out a whole toxic soup of pollutants,” Emily Figdor of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, one of the two groups that sued the agency, said in an interview. “The administration is going after one of them. Benzene poses a whole host of health risks. It’s a good thing that they strengthened the standard.” California’s current standard for benzene is already below the new national standard, so that state’s 13 refineries are not affected. Marti Sinclair of the Sierra Club, which was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, it was too much. “We are happy that E.P.A. has addressed this important public health issue at last,”...“It is disappointing that E.P.A. would undermine its own program by adopting this dangerous trading scheme.”

For Immediate Release: February 8, 2007
Contact: Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337
EPA LIBRARY SYSTEM CONTINUES TO IMPLODE — Union Charges EPA with Unfair Labor Practice for Refusing to Consult on Closures

Washington, DC — Despite public pledges of cooperation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is refusing to consult with its own employees about the effects of past or schedule of future library closures, according to an unfair labor practices complaint released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In the face of growing congressional opposition, EPA continues to shutter libraries and make collections unavailable both to its own staff and the public.
The unfair labor practice complaint was filed on Monday, February 5, 2007 by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Council of EPA Locals, Council 238 before the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The complaint centers on the closure of the EPA Regional Library in Chicago and charges that EPA has refused to bargain on the impacts this action has on scientists and other specialists. The complaint asks for intervention to force EPA to enter binding arbitration on the subject.
“EPA touts its outreach efforts but has refused to consult with its own professionals or anyone else prior to hacking apart its library system,” stated PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg. “It is ridiculous that our nation’s top environmental professionals have to wage legal battle just to keep access to information.”
This Tuesday, in an oversight hearing before the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson testified that only five of the 26-library network had been closed. In fact, additional libraries have been shut, including, most recently the EPA Regional Library in Atlanta (serving eight southeastern states) where virtually all services have been transferred to Cincinnati. When confronted by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the committee chair, Johnson said he knew nothing about this functional shuttering of the Atlanta facility.
The rationale for EPA’s library shutdowns has shifted. Originally it was to save funds but agency studies show that its libraries produce cost savings several times their budgets by eliminating staff time that would otherwise be spent on tracking down documents. In addition, EPA’s plan to digitize tens of thousands of documents will likely cost far more than the $1.5 million it estimated it might save.
Now, EPA claims that it wants to modernize its information system, even as its budget is being cut – the FY 08 proposed budget unveiled by President Bush this week would cut EPA’s budget by 6.6%. The agency, however, has not described how the new system it is implementing on a piecemeal basis will ultimately function. Nor is it known how this still-developing new system will perform any better.
“EPA is forcing its entire staff to become their own librarians, wasting countless hours and sacrificing access to mountains of information formerly available,” Goldberg continued. “These shuttered libraries handled tens of thousands of information requests each year, not the handful that EPA is now implying.”

Fresno Bee
Valley lobbies for air cleanup funds
Agency wants $250 million from Proposition 1B.By E.J. Schultz

SACRAMENTO — A newly launched effort to clean the Valley's air will face an early test in Sacramento this year when regulators begin to dole out $1 billion in air quality bond money. The Valley's air pollution agency is lobbying for at least $250 million to help replace polluting cars and trucks — a key part of a 16-year, $3 billion plan to meet federal clean air standards ...The $1 billion in clean air money is contained in Proposition 1B, the $19.9billion transportation bond approved by voters in November. The ballot measure calls for the air money to be spent to reduce emissions along trade corridors.

Breathing hard as air goes bad...Michael G. Mooney

Over the past few days, the air in Modesto and the Northern San Joaquin Valley was as bad as, or worse than, it was in Fresno and other Central Valley locations. "Basically a strong high-pressure system has moved over California, creating a lid over the entire San Joaquin Valley," said Ferreria, an air quality project planner at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District...a "bowl" effect is created...Dust, ash, smoke and soot become trapped and hang in the air. Robert Martella, pharmacist..."The albuterol is flying off the shelves,"..."So are the other inhalers, especially for children."...he noticed a weekend sales spike in medicine used by asthmatics, which coincided with poor air quality recorded in and around Modesto. With the high pressure in place, Ferreria said, air movement is at a minimum, causing it to grow increasingly dirty and increasingly unhealthy to breathe. A few days ago, Ferreria said, the ridge settled directly over California, trapping pollution in the atmosphere throughout the entire eight-county Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Fresno Bee
Valley can clean its air quicker, study says...Mark Grossi

Valley residents can breathe clean air 11 years sooner than the local air district has predicted and save more than $5 billion in health-care costs...nonprofit International Sustainable Systems Research Center released a study that encourages swifter cleanup of diesel pollution and tougher rules for businesses — such as forbidding the use of older, polluting farm tractors on bad smog days. Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, replied that even if he followed all the suggestions, the Valley would still come up short...said the research center used outdated estimates of the Valley's pollution emissions. The recommendations also address further restriction of farm irrigation engines and wine fermentation. Another suggestion would regulate composting and green waste facilities years earlier than the district anticipates, according to the study. But those changes would affect only 30% of the problem. The study noted the air district does not have direct control over 70% of the problem — vehicles. The state and federal governments regulate vehicles, planes, trains and other so-called mobile sources. Diesel and other vehicle pollution are the biggest obstacles to a smog cleanup. The research center's study, funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, is likely to attract wide interest in California...

Fresno Bee
Don't hold your breath...Editorial

The Valley's air district has proposed dropping into the worst category for non-attainment of clean air standards...the district has decided that we can't meet the existing deadline of 2012. Moving from the current "serious" category to extreme would put the Valley in uncomfortable company. Los Angeles is the only region in the worst-offender ranks now. But it would extend the deadline, and finesse some stiff penalties from the federal government - principally the threat to freeze some $2 billion in highway funds. "Even if money were no object...is still physically impossible to get the pollution reductions we need by 2012," said district executive director Seyed Sadredin. Perhaps. But we might get the job done a lot faster with more cooperation from state and federal agencies - particularly the feds. Vehicles are responsible for about 80% for the smog-forming emissions that plague us. And the Valley air district - indeed, local government at all levels - is powerless to do a thing about it. Control of so-called "mobiles sources" rests with Sacramento and Washington. So, yes, perhaps this slide into extreme non-attainment is inevitable - because we didn't do enough to stop it, in Washington, in Sacramento or here at home. Meanwhile, if the air district has its way, a child born in the Valley today will graduate from high school before he has a chance to breathe clean air.