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Spare me the Spare the Air bluster

By From page A8 | January 26, 2014

There’s a column on these pages from a local libertarian, challenging the merits of the state’s air quality program. He raises good points, such as why restrict wood-burning in residential fireplaces and the like but allow people to sit in drive-thrus while waiting for their lunch or a specialty coffee?

I harken back to my days in the central San Joaquin Valley.

My first experience with the state’s Central Valley was after I graduated from Monterey High School and went to Fresno State. That was the early 1980s. I have distinct memories of being able to look east and see three ridges deep into the snow-capped Sierra Nevada, then turn around and see the coastal range hills to the west. It was beautiful.

That was during the winter months. By summer, the air would thicken with enough muck to partially obscure the mountains to the east and the western foothills. Fresno is nearly central to the valley, so both the Sierras and the coastal range were miles and miles off in the distance.

Fast-forward to current times. I have distinct memories of walking out of the newspaper office in Porterville, looking west and not being able to see the foothills. Porterville is located in southeastern Tulare County, nestled against the foothills leading into the Sierra Nevada. Drive 10 or 15 minutes from the newspaper’s parking lot and you could be 3,000 feet up into the mountains. Yet I couldn’t see those mountains, let alone the foothills, from Porterville.

A steady winter rain will clear the air for a few days, restoring the picturesque views from the valley floor.

The regional air district there has waged war on air pollution for as long as I can remember. Yes, they have Spare the Air days, many more than our record-tying 30 days thus far this winter. I was there when rules were put into place to ban wood-burning fireplaces from all new home construction. You read that correctly: Ban. New fast-food restaurants that include drive-thrus come under intense scrutiny. I was there when the air district studied ways to mitigate the methane that seeps from cow manure at the valley’s many dairies. (That’s true natural gas!). While that sounds funny, and made great news copy while it was taking place, the dairy farmers actually found a way to capture the methane and burn it to generate power.

I recall a 1994 study where the findings indicated that a sizable percentage of the air pollution in the Central Valley – 11 percent of Fresno’s summertime air pollution – came from the Bay Area. So our pollution in Fairfield was drifting west into the San Joaquin Valley, getting trapped in the inversion layer and moving down through my former home. The valley’s air district actually sued the California Air Resources Board in an attempt to stop this “drift.”

I should note that all pollution is not the same. In the summer months, it’s primarily ozone – smog – that’s the problem. Vehicle exhaust and other similar pollutants combine with high temperatures to choke the air. The winter’s pollution is primarily small particulate matter – fine dust – that we all inhale and that gets trapped in our lungs, leading to sometimes fatal consequences for those with weakened respiratory systems. That “dust” includes wood smoke, hence the focus during winter months on curbing wood-burning activities when the air quality begins to worsen.

The state’s various air districts operate under the state’s air resources board. Together they work to bring our air quality into compliance with federal health standards. The various regional boards – including our Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the nearby Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District, create local policies – such as Spare the Air during the summer and winter months – to help meet these federal objectives.

These efforts are working, based on information on smog and soot released this week by the California Air Resources Board. The gist is that the state’s air quality is significantly better now than it was a decade ago. But there’s work to be done. A third of the state’s population lives where air pollution still exceeds federal health standards. Those areas include parts of greater Los Angeles, the San Joaquin Valley, Sacramento and San Diego, as reported by The Associated Press.

My libertarian friend is correct: We do not elect people to serve on the various air quality boards. But we do elect the people who make the appointments, and we elect the people who make the federal health safety laws these districts are attempting to comply with.

To those who challenge the necessity of programs that promote better air quality, such as the Winter Spare the Air program in our area, I say, go ahead and vote the bums out. Then sit back and watch as our state’s air becomes a kind of soup that kills.

I, for one, opt for blue skies and fresh air – to the greatest extent possible.

Reach Managing Editor Glen Faison at 427-6925 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GlenFaison.

Glen Faison

Glen Faison

Glen Faison joined the Daily Republic as managing editor in September 2009. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for daily and weekly newspapers in the San Joaquin Valley for 20-plus years. His experience includes time as editor of the Golden Eagle, a military paper serving the Lemoore Naval Air Station. He graduated from Fresno State University with a bachelor's degree in journalism and bleeds Bulldogs red. He is an avid fan of the NFL's Washington team, and attended the 1988 NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings at RFK Stadium. He's a member of the Fairfield-Suisun Twilight Rotary Club and a board member for the Solano County Library Foundation. He married his wife, Jill, in 2005, and has three children: Courtni, Tyler and Hayli.

Discussion | 5 comments

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  • Legend1949January 26, 2014 - 7:56 am

    Glen, The one point I didn't see was that Fairfields pollution is blown in from the bay area, of which we are not a part of , hwy 80 bringing cars from the bay area and last but not least , the Sacramento valley blows this way How can four small cities generate enough pollution to cause Fresno problems? Follow the air patterns before the wind passes our area

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  • Glen FaisonJanuary 26, 2014 - 11:50 am

    @Legend1949: Fairfield is part of the greater Bay Area Air Quality Management District, so by definition the East Bay air pollution to our east is our air pollution here in Fairfield. When air quality becomes unhealthy in one part of the district, a Spare the Air day is called for the entire district. That's how the system is designed. As for air flow, it blows both from the east and to the east from here, depending on the time of year and the prevailing weather patterns.

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  • The MisterJanuary 26, 2014 - 8:27 am

    If it's clean air you want in Fairfield, then I-80 needs to be re-routed. Why pick on the local residents who want to light a fire to keep warm? I'm sure they are a very small percentage of Fairfield residents. Heck... they live in FF... don't you think we should stop those foreign trucks and cars from dumping their pollution in FF? Now I hear that some really bad air pollution from China has hit the west coast. So now we have to limit FF people from pharting? Where does it end?! Foreign air pollution comes in to FF and FF residents have to accept the punishment. So... let's stop all I-80 traffic from going thru FF and let's ban all China-made goods from being bought or sold in FF. And let's leave the people with fireplaces alone!!

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  • Glen FaisonJanuary 26, 2014 - 12:03 pm

    @The Mister: I heard the same argument when I lived in the Central Valley. Why go after the home fireplaces and the dairies when all these trucks are passing through the region on Interstate 5 and Highway 99, kicking up roadside dust and microscopic rubber shavings from their tires as they roll by, not to mention the vehicle exhaust that trails behind them? Trucking of that sort is considered interstate commerce, which is governed by Congress. As such, it cannot be regulated by a regional air quality management district. So California's air districts, to comply federal health safety requirements, must do so by addressing the forms of pollution that can be addressed in accordance with federal law. That's the local stuff like wood-burning fireplaces, agricultural burns, dust at construction sites and so on. The state adds its layer of regulations as well, again within the restrictions of the law, to help enhance air quality. The federal government likewise is involved through such things as more-restrictive fuel-efficiency standards for new vehicles. But the trucks ... That requires a conversation with our local congressman.

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  • LilJanuary 26, 2014 - 1:32 pm

    This Christmas I was in the Central Valley, in a small town between Modesto and Fresno. The smog there was unbelievable. If you can see your air, it is not good to breathe. The pollution from the Bay Area and Fairfield, blows to the valley where it is stopped by the Sierra Nevadas. Have you guys been seeing the news about China? No restrictions and that's our future. Sure, wood burning might be a small contributor but I bet all you complaining would complain the same way if you are a truck driver needing to comply with emission rules. Pollution is our pollution. Unless you live with no car, only walk, never use electricity or any modern product, you are a part of the problem. Spare the Air days are an attempt to try to solve the problem. It's too bad that people are so concerned about having a cozy fire instead of thinking of the rest of the citizens of this state.

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