Although the San Joaquin Valley has some of the most stringent smog-fighting laws in the United States, people should brace for even harsher rules that could affect home stoves and fireplaces, farmers, restaurants, food processors and Modesto’s Gallo winery, as well as cars, trucks and other vehicles.
Air quality has improved immensely in recent years, but new requirements of the federal Clean Air Act are kicking in. Local and state air quality officials have launched a drive to rewrite the Valley’s rules with help from stakeholders and regular people.
“We will do whatever we can to reduce emissions,” said Sheraz Gill, strategies and incentives director for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. “The district will leave no stone unturned in identifying additional measures to protect public health.”
At issue are PM 2.5 standards, or particulate matter mostly affecting health in winter months, as opposed to ozone, a summertime concern. Harmful particles can aggravate asthma and bronchitis, cause lung and heart disease, and put people in the hospital or lead to death, and infants and seniors are most vulnerable.
When it comes to public health, having a job is a key part of it.
Roger Isom, Western Area Processors Association and California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association
Scientists blame combustion, or anything that burns fuel. Sources include engines of all kinds, home heating and myriad businesses, whether cooking or canning food or heating sand to make glass bottles.
“We’ve made a lot of progress (reducing emissions), but we still have a long way to go” to comply with new standards, said Jon Klassen, a program manager with the air district.
His agency on Wednesday unveiled ideas for clamping down on stationary sources: homes, farms and businesses throughout the eight-county Valley, including Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties. Failing to comply could bring “devastating sanctions,” the air district’s Anna Myers said, including loss of federal highway money – about $2.6 billion each year – or inability to issue permits for many companies wanting to locate or expand in the Valley, she said.
Plan specifics will emerge in coming months, but the air district provided general warnings to anyone using fuel. For example, the district could push more farmers to convert water pumps from gas-powered motors to those using electricity. Or, restrictions on wood burning could get even tougher, favoring only the cleanest devices. Maybe new technology will improve expensive machines already installed by E.&J. Gallo, the world’s largest wine producer whose bottles are made in Modesto.
You’re going to put a lot of farmers out of business.
Doug Ratto, Modesto agribusinessman
Doug Ratto, who has a Modesto-based orchard management service, questioned the district’s data and modeling assumptions. “It’s somewhat disturbing that you’re going to dictate and it’s just going to happen,” he said, urging air officials to consult with industry experts. He warned that some farmers could be forced out of business.
“Maybe some businesses should leave,” said Kevin Hamilton, chief executive officer of the Central Valley Asthma Collaborative.
He said the air district should stop blaming federal requirements and start making changes to prevent people from getting sick. “Public health should be your first argument and your last argument,” he said.
Tom Menz of Fresno asked the district to consider outlawing all home wood burning except for those with no other heat source.
The rules are widely flouted. (Many homes) spew out constantly.
Tom Menz, Fresno
Steve Goldstein said, “I extol the virtues and benefits” of air restrictions daily while selling devices at Modesto’s Spa Doctor Pool-Spa & Stove Center. People taking advantage of cash incentives have replaced more than 11,000 “dirty” stoves and fireplaces throughout the Valley, and about 2,000 of the cleanest-burning models are certified with the air district, allowing their owners to burn on many days when others can’t.
But the Valley has about 100,000 homes, so much remains to be done, said Samir Sheikh, the air district’s deputy director.
“It’s going to be a very intensive public process,” he warned at Wednesday’s meeting, held in Fresno and streamed live in Modesto and on the internet. “We’re going to hear arguments on both sides.”
Two years ago, the air district adopted landmark wood-burning restrictions, leading to clean-air records last winter.
Part of the air district’s strategy takes aim at the state Air Resources Board, which oversees regulations on mobile sources – cars and trucks, including those just passing through on their way to delivering goods elsewhere. Vehicles belch 85 percent of emissions that are most to blame for the Valley’s particulate matter, the air district says.
We’re hopeful, as always, that we can convince the (state) Air Resources Board and the (federal Environmental Protection Agency) that Valley issues are worth investing in.
Samir Sheikh, deputy air control officer for the Valley’s air district
The air district will urge the state to provide incentive money for upgrading tractors, locomotives, trucks and other vehicles, and to help cities and counties replace their fleets with greener models. Spending a billion dollars sounds about right, the air district said.
State and local air agencies will host public workshops in coming months, and the air district could vote on new rules in August.
Sheikh said it’s “too early to tell” whether the coming change in the White House might affect expectations for more restrictive rules. President-elect Donald Trump this week selected Scott Pruitt to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Pruitt has ties to the fossil fuel industry and is expected to attack President Barack Obama’s climate-change policy.
The administration change is “something we’re watching very closely,” Sheikh said.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390