Valley Air advocate and expert discusses ways to restore Valley air quality

March 21, 2022 /

Thanks to the rain Kern County saw this weekend, the skies are clear, for now; however, blue skies seem to be a rarity in Kern.

Waking up to post-apocalyptic yellow skies, the people of the San Joaquin Valley continuously experience a bad case of environmental pollution. Just recently during the past fall months, the Valley experienced dangerous levels of pollution and, in the summertime, it faced severe ozone depletion.

To learn more about the cause of this air pollution and steps that can be taken for its prevention, Kern Sol News hosted an interview with Dr. Catherine Groupa White, the Executive Director at the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition (CVAQ).

CVAQ is a non-profit public organization fighting for clean air. They explain that across the seven central cities of the San Joaquin Valley (Fresno, Bakersfield, Stockton, Modesto, Tulare, Visalia, and Merced) there are a multitude of polluting sources that make the area an extremely polluted basin. The principal causes come from the development and infrastructure, oil and energy, and farming industries.

“At the local, regional, and even—in some ways—at the state level, the issue is actually, from my perspective, that a lot of the regulations are not about reducing air pollution,” stated Dr. White. “They are about protecting industries’ ability to continue with business as usual.”

Although local governments have jurisdiction over cases of environmental degradation, many go unnoticed or fall through loopholes. When the San Joaquin Valley created immunities for small producers of pollution, many operations claimed to be much smaller than they actually are and remained exempt from rules. Instead of offsetting the pollution they create, corporations abuse environmental law, pay off local governments, and concentrate pollution in communities of people of color.

The Valley’s problem now is that the current regulations are inadequate. So, it is up to community members to weigh in during the lawmaking process and push regulators to use the safest tech and practices available.

“Do direct emission reductions at the source, make sure the rules we have are being enforced and not living on books, and address the root causes by working towards economic transformation,” Dr. White informed.

Individuals can also participate in the Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN), where they can directly report to the Valley Air District about their concerns and help them look at infrastructure development flare ups or take bucket samples of the air. 

There are several reasons why air pollution is escalating and going unchecked and White conveys how the science used to detect contamination in the air is behind. They also note that because there are many sources of pollution, the leading producer cannot be easily spotted.

Additionally, White points out the additional poor practices of the San Joaquin Valley. In this area, the governments install swamp coolers in most buildings, circulating airflow through enclosed spaces and the atmosphere. However, swamp coolers are an unviable option because they release disproportionate amounts of moisture into the open. We also learned the state government passes legislation and funding to create centers of wildfire resources. But, these centers are absent in the cities of the San Joaquin Valley because it is less urbanized than California’s larger metropolitan ones.

White goes on to mention how many polluters are in low-income areas where people do not know how to take action and do not have adequate resources. The built up pollution then has cumulative health impacts on citizens, ranging from headaches and nosebleeds to causing asthma and stunting lung growth. In the Kern High School District, many high school athletes—specifically runners—voiced concerns and difficulties with daily sports practice continuing despite bad air quality conditions.

Because athletes take in 20 times more air than a person at rest, they are more at risk of developing upper and lower airway dysfunction and asthma. At the same time, many of them voiced valid worries about being held back from performing at their best.

Thankfully, there are steps for community members to fight against environmental pollution. One of the most effective solutions is to spread awareness about such issues. Active communication should be the number one priority of the government and community.

Today, CVAQ creates brochures to make information more interactive and accessible for citizens. It is essential to provide proper guidelines, such as these brochures, to stay in well-sealed and well-ventilated areas. In addition, people need to mobilize together to observe, advocate, and make decisions. Community watchdogs can look out for businesses breaking environmental laws and report them to the government. Dedicated advocates help people in the same area stay connected and make sure their needs and recommendations receive consideration.

“Decision-makers need to know the lived reality of our communities to ensure that we are coming up with solutions that are going to actually meet the challenges that the most impacted neighborhoods on the ground are dealing with,” White stated.

Staying united in the fight for effective policies and against corrupt practices forces those in power to take action and respond. And, there are still future obstacles to face, like how to connect policies with just transitions and widen the reach to inform audiences. But, the most impactful movement these initiatives provide people is to give them hope for change.

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