During the California Air Resources Board (CARB) meeting Thursday, the Board voted to approve the Arvin/Lamont Community Emissions Reduction Program (CERP) — a program that focuses on improving air quality and reducing air pollution exposure in the Arvin/Lamont Community.
This is the fourth program prepared by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District in partnership with community residents, and the thirteenth approved by the Board as mandated by Assembly Bill (AB) 617, which requires community-focused action to reduce air pollution and improve public health in communities that experience disproportionate burden from exposure to air pollutants.
“Assembly Bill 617 established a first-of-its-kind air quality program that works to advance equity and environmental justice by focusing attention and resources on communities most burdened by poor air quality,” stated Liane M. Randolph, Chair of CARB.
In order to coordinate the implementation of this air quality program, CARB first created the Community Air Protection Program (CAPP). Since CAPP’s creation in 2018, CARB has accepted 17 communities into the program, working closely with air districts, other government agencies, community partners, and the affected industries.
The Arvin/Lamont Community is part of the 17 communities within the program and includes the City of Arvin and the adjacent communities of Lamont, Hilltop, Fuller Acres, and Weedpatch.
“These Central Valley locations have long been overburdened by emissions from industrial sources, agricultural operations, oil production and extraction, dust, and heavy-duty truck traffic. Many neighborhoods are near farmland, making pesticide exposure a top community priority,” CARB stated in a press release.
The Arvin/Lamont Community Steering Committee (CSC) with their elected co-leaders Gustavo Aguirre Jr, Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN), and Byanka Santoyo, a community resident, worked in partnership with the Valley Air District and other agencies to develop the Arvin/Lamont Community Emissions Reduction Program (CERP) to reduce air pollution emissions and exposure in their local community.
The CSC, which is made up of 70 members, held 20 regular meetings between March 2021 and August 2022 that ranged in topics including an introduction to the AB 617 Program, community air pollution concerns, emission sources, and air quality monitoring.
In addition to these topics, the CSC also discussed air pollution impacts on health, air quality rules and enforcement, the role of incentives, and community pesticide impacts. These meetings culminated with the CSC developing emission and exposure reduction strategies tailored to community needs.
“I’m here representing my hometown where I live, where my children are growing up, and where I want to make a difference in my community and in the future of my children and everybody’s families that have been in such a disadvantaged community,” stated Byanka Santoyo.
Santoyo continued by saying that it took about three years for the Arvin/Lamont Community to be included in the CARB Community Air Protection Program. She and other community members attended every AB 617 meeting, advocating for their community’s inclusion.
“This was very important for the community, this is something that they’ve been working on for many years and now that they have it approved we’re going to see those changes coming into the community. All these incentives and measures are gonna reduce a lot of the exposures that are happening on a daily basis,” Santoyo said.
Santoyo claimed that despite the community starting off on the wrong foot — they had the approval but weren’t sure how to move forward — they have managed to stretch their inclusion to other disadvantaged communities, like Fuller Acres. She commented that Fuller Acres is currently suffering, yet wasn’t originally included in AB 617.
“But because of the collaboration that residents are here to support each other, this is helping. And this is helping other AB 617 communities by letting them know that these are communities that you could add in in the future,” said Santoyo. “You’re able to help out and you’re able to cross-collaborate with each other to see changes.”
Gustavo Aguirre Jr., the Kern County Director at CCEJN, claimed that once AB 617 rolled out, residents were happy to be part of the program.
“They were happy to work in good standing with the regulatory agencies that they once, you know, were agitated with and would fight with. It was a healthy relationship, but an aggressive one. We [residents, community leaders, and regulatory agencies] learned to sit down and actually have meaningful conversations and look at what is most important,” Aguirre Jr. stated.
According to the Arvin/Lamont Community CERP staff report, the CERP focuses on reducing emissions and exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and toxic air contaminants like those from pesticides and diesel particulate matter (DPM) that originate from sources such as heavy-duty trucks, passenger vehicles, and oil and gas operations.
CERP measures will employ various strategies — 25 in total — that are categorized as incentives, regulatory, enforcement, agency partnerships, and outreach. The Valley Air District
estimates a lifetime reduction of 135.4 tons of PM2.5, 372.5 tons of NOx, and 148.3 tons of VOC from CERP measures.
The Arvin/Lamont Community CERP will include the following types of air quality measures:
- Incentive investments of $30 million toward projects like residential lawn and garden equipment replacement and agricultural equipment replacement
- Partnership measures to address pesticides, truck re-routing, and oil well impacts
- Outreach measures to help inform the community about their air quality and related opportunities
- Enhanced enforcement focused on stationary source inspections, fugitive dust, and heavy-duty truck idling
- Statewide regulatory measures
Community members’ concerns most notably centered around the pesticide partnership measure, desiring swift action to reduce pesticide emissions exposure, and for the measure to specifically include buffer zones and a local notification system.
To keep the CSC meetings accessible and productive, the Valley Air District employed a third-party facilitation team to help plan and host the meetings, and simultaneous Spanish interpretation at all meetings. The Valley Air District provided materials in print form for CSC members as requested. Along the way, the Valley Air District also held bi-lingual (Spanish and
English) office hours and reached out directly to CSC members around certain topics, including CERP measures, to help answer questions and listen to their concerns.
Additionally, residents received a $75 stipend per meeting, to ensure they were compensated for their time and expenses associated with attending the meetings.
“The San Joaquin Valley is the breadbasket for California and the entire country, but it also has some of the worst air in the nation. We must ensure that the people in the communities that produce our food can breathe clean air where they live, work, and play,” said Chanell Fletcher, CARB Deputy Executive Officer for Environmental Justice. “The enduring resilience of the Arvin/Lamont community shows in the way they came together to use the valuable tools provided by AB 617, in partnership with the Valley Air District, CARB, and other stakeholders to design a well-rounded CERP that will offer a breath of fresh clean air for local residents.”