Environmental organizations filed a lawsuit against San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District

May 26, 2023 /

A lawsuit was filed against the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District (Valley Air District) by San Joaquin Valley environmental justice advocates with the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment, Committee for a Better Arvin, Committee for a Better Shafter, and Delano Guardians. 

“The San Joaquin Valley is overburdened by the worst air pollution in the nation; despite this, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has allowed industrial sources to increase pollution by using nonexistent or invalid emission reductions to claim compliance with the Clean Air Act,” said Grecia Orozco, staff attorney for the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment in a release.  

In March the organizations sent a “60-day notice of intent to sue” to the Valley Air District. The letter discussed ozone and PM2.5 polluting the air and the health risks. They reference the American Lung Association stating that Kern is the fourth most polluted county in the United States and Bakersfield ranks as the second most polluted city. 

“Year after year, we continuously see low-income communities and communities of color get the worst of the worst when it comes to public health harms. A quick internet search will show you that Kern County is Number 1 in the United States for year-round particle pollution. The Valley Air District knows these numbers and they refuse to seek justice on our behalf. As a result, we must bring forward this lawsuit to bring relief to the neglected communities that need it the most,” said Anabel Marquez, Committee for a Better Shafter.  

According to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), PM2.5 exposure is associated with “premature mortality, increased hospital admissions for heart or lung causes, acute and chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, emergency room visits, respiratory symptoms, and restricted activity days.”

PM can come from organic compounds such as trees or man-made things like industrial processes and motor vehicle exhaust according to the CARB website. 

CARB explains ozone as a “reactive and unstable gas” that damages the inside of human lungs and can be compared to bleach in the way it kills living cells. 

Ozone is formed by reacting to pollutants from “vehicles, factories and other industrial sources, fossil fuels, combustion, consumer products, evaporation of paints, and many other sources,” according to CARB.

This lawsuit is to address these issues and work towards a better environment for community members that have been impacted by air pollution. 

“Historically, Arvin has been a city in Kern County that has been forced to bear the brunt of public health harms. As somebody who lives here and heads the Committee for a Better Arvin, I seek better lives for those who are forced to breathe the harmful valley air. With this lawsuit, we hold the Valley Air District accountable and make it clear how seriously we take the health of our community members and all those in Kern County,” said Estela Escoto, Committee for a Better Arvin.

The press release claims that the Valley Air District prioritizes profit oil industries over the health of its community members. The Emission Reduction Credit (ERC) banking and offset equivalency system program is in place to prevent this issue, however, environmental justice groups claim that there at loopholes in the program.

“By using unlawful regulatory loopholes, the Air District has sacrificed public health and safety for the sake of industry polluters. By filing this lawsuit, we stand with the communities most impacted by the region’s severe air pollution and we will hold the district accountable for its misdeeds,” said Orozco.

Although the program is to ensure any new permits that will add sources of pollution are offset to not add to the pollution crisis, that is not happening. 

“In 2020, an investigation by the California Air Resources Board disclosed widespread corruption and abuse of the District’s equivalency system and the District has since acknowledged that the system no longer provides the reductions that meet federal Clean Air Act requirements,” stated the release. 

The release continues to state that this abuse can be traced back to 2004. Environmental justice organizations hope this lawsuit will lead to the district correcting and resubmitting annual reports and implementing remedies to system failure. 

“After decades of watchdogging this corrupt system, we can no longer wait for the San Joaquin Valley Air District to do the right thing by Valley breathers. Bringing this lawsuit is just one way for us to seek long overdue relief from the ongoing public health crisis caused by air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley, especially for Black and Indigenous peoples, People of Color, and low-income communities,” said Catherine Garoupa, PhD., Executive Director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition. 

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JaNell Gore

Ja'Nell Gore is a student at Cal State Bakersfield. In addition to writing for Kern Sol News she is a poet who loves any chance she has to perform and be with her community.