air quality

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

 

Later this month, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is set to release a report detailing how well its clean air programs are meeting federal requirements for reducing emissions. It’s called an equivalency demonstration, and it’s released annually every November.

EPA AirNow

 

So far in 2020, thousands of wildfires have torched a record-setting 3.2 million acres in California. If that makes this wildfire season unprecedented, here and throughout the West Coast, so is our region’s resulting smog. In a press conference on Monday, Valley air officials said: Don’t expect the air to clear for at least a few more days, and possibly longer.

As fires continue to ravage Northern California, farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley now have to protect themselves from poor air quality on top of COVID-19. One farm worker says it’s made working in the fields even harder.

 

Oralia Bautista is 34 years old. Six days a week she commutes with her husband from Fresno to pick tomatoes in Firebaugh. While working, she always wears a mask.

 

“It helps filter out the bad air we’re breathing, but it's also hard because well, it’s hard to breathe with the mask on to begin with,” she said.

 

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

The San Joaquin Valley lies underneath one of the two most polluted air basins in the country. That’s why, in 2018, two communities here – one in Shafter and one in south-central Fresno – were selected among the first to participate in Assembly Bill 617, an ambitious state law that enables local involvement in air protection.

On this week’s Valley Edition: We sit down with candidates Jim Costa and Esmerelda Soria to talk policy and politics as both vye for the 16th Congressional District seat.

 

Plus, you’ve heard her as a panelist on ‘Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me!’ the NPR news quiz show: this weekend, comedian Paula Poundstone is coming to Fresno. The standup comic tells us why improvisation is key to a good show. 

We also ask if community efforts to clean up the San Joaquin Valley’s dirty air are working.

San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District

Tuesday night’s storm may have cleaned up the air for much of the Valley and foothills, but winter is still the season the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District limits wood burning. New changes this year to its “Check Before You Burn” program could bring more no-burn days to Fresno, Madera and Kern Counties.

EPA AirNow

On Monday, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District issued a warning of unhealthy air conditions due to wildfire smoke from Northern California, an alert it repeated on Wednesday. Why then, for days, were online air monitors showing relatively healthy air? It’s the result of the size of the particulate matter blowing into the Valley, but also the level of information that air authorities share with the public.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency has accused the state of failing to comply with federal clean air policy.

Flickr user Jeff Turner, CC BY 2.0

On Thursday, the Trump administration revoked California’s authority to set its own rules on tailpipe emissions.

The reversal of California’s nearly-50-year-old waiver means the state won’t be able to push auto makers faster than the federal government can to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants that come out of cars. The decision came just a day before students and activists took to the streets in cities across the world – including Fresno – as part of the Global Climate Strike.

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

Air quality stole a lot of headlines this week, as the Trump Administration moved to revoke California’s ability to set its own tailpipe emissions standards distinct from those mandated federally by the Environmental Protection Agency. Not only could the move prevent future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, it could also prevent gains in air quality that are much needed in the San Joaquin Valley and California’s other polluted air basins.

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

When Saul Ruiz heard about the McKittrick oil seep, which first occurred in May and is now being cleaned up by Chevron and state agencies, his first reaction was worry: Worry for the McKittrick residents and environment nearby, but also for residents of other similar communities. “My worry was that problems like these could expand to other communities like Taft, Buttonwillow, Lost Hills,” he says in Spanish.

San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District

Fowler Unified School District is upgrading its bus fleet, and possibly the air its students breathe. The newest bus model was unveiled Tuesday afternoon at Malaga Elementary School.

It looks like any other school bus: It’s yellow, with dark bench seats and a little stop sign that swings out into traffic. But, as San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Director Samir Sheikh announced at the press conference, it’s electric. “It’s absolutely zero emissions,” he said. “Zero air pollution coming out of that bus.”

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

San Joaquin Valley air still ranks the worst in the country, according to the American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report released on Wednesday.

Bakersfield and the Fresno-Madera-Hanford region ranked worst in the country for particle pollution -- despite the fact that many of these cities experienced fewer unhealthy days than the previous year. Visalia also ranked second worst for ozone pollution, right behind the Los Angeles-Long Beach area.

Cal-Span

Kevin Hamilton was surprised when he learned that, for decades, industries that pollute have been able to trade emissions reductions under a San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District program. It’s like a bank: If a company installs a new technology that reduces its pollution—and that’s the program's goal—the company can earn what’s called emission reduction credits, or ERCs. It means it can emit more with no penalty. “And you can trade them, they have value,” Hamilton says. “You get a certificate, it's like a stock certificate.”

On this week’s Valley Edition: The Valley air district is facing scrutiny for how it manages pollution from local industries. Air quality advocates wonder: How well is the program working?

Plus, Fresno County is considering the Voter’s Choice Act Model for the 2020 election, which could mean fewer polling locations, but more days to cast your ballot. We’ll hear from one neighboring county that’s already made the switch.

CAL-SPAN

After years of delays, the state has approved a plan to improve air quality in the San Joaquin Valley. 

Air officials and clean air advocates celebrated Thursday as state Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols announced a unanimous vote to approve a valley-wide plan to control PM2.5. That’s the harmful particulate matter that obstructs the views of snowy Sierra Peaks and is associated with increased asthma attacks, reduced immune function and low birthweight in newborns.

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

When it comes to monitoring air quality, we typically turn to air regulators, like the state and the local San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. But a recent state law is taking on a new strategy: Putting air quality in the hands of the community. And one person who’s excited about the opportunity is Southeast Fresno resident Lilia Becerril.

Becerril lives near the Fresno Fairgrounds and Vang Pao Elementary School. She likes it here, and she’s a kind of neighborhood career volunteer, working with local schools, and groups giving legal aid and tutoring services.

On this week's Valley Edition: The San Joaquin Valley has some of the dirtiest air in the country. In Fresno and Kern Counties, a state law has introduced a new strategy to tackle the problem: putting air monitoring in the hands of the community.

Later, we look at how some undocumented high school students are navigating college applications and applying for driver licences. Some are choosing to opt out entirely.

Flickr user Jeff Turner, CC BY 2.0

You know how newer cars are rated to drive a certain number of miles per gallon of fuel? That number is regulated by the federal government. Since 1978, the U.S. has required that cars achieve steadily better fuel economy. Earlier this year, however, the Trump Administration announced a new rule that would revoke some fuel economy standards set by the Obama administration. And a recent hearing in Fresno showed just how contentious the rule is.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

It was only a few weeks ago that wildfires drove particle pollution to dangerously high levels in many parts of the San Joaquin Valley and mountain areas, and it could happen again before wildfire season is over. Particulate matter, also known as PM, is a major health risk: It’s known to cause asthma attacks and other respiratory flare-ups in the short term, and exposure over the long term has been associated with reduced immune function and cardiovascular problems.

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