BY CATHERINE GAROUPA WHITE AND DILLON DELVO
For decades, people living in the San Joaquin Valley have been forced to breathe dangerously polluted air. Thankfully, we might soon have the legislative and technical support needed to solve this deadly problem. Over the next few days, the California Assembly will vote on AB 2550, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman and emergency room physician Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno. The law would empower the California Air Resources Board to work collaboratively with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and the public, as well as previously marginalized community-based organizations and disadvantaged communities, to review past failures and create and implement additional programs and strategies to meet healthy air standards for ozone and fine particle pollution. This is an unprecedented effort because we have endured dangerous levels of fine particle and ozone pollution for decades. The Central Valley Air Quality Coalition and partners like Little Manila Rising are calling for urgent passage of this billbecause it can begin to put right decades of environmental injustice.
Of our 4.3 million residents in the San Joaquin Valley, 3 million are people of color and 667,000 live in poverty. Not coincidentally, San Joaquin Valley kids consistently suffer some of the worst — and often suffer the worst — asthma rates in the state. The World Health Organization and American Lung Association agree our region has the worst, most dangerous air in the nation. Our air pollution crisis is fueled by decades of redlining and environmental racism. Particle pollution comes from industrial facilities, oil and gas production, diesel trucks and other vehicles as well as agricultural facilities that dominate our landscape. The tiny specks of soot, metals, dirt, and aerosols coming from these facilities get into our lungs and bloodstream. They can trigger asthma attacks, cause lung cancer, damage lung tissue and airways, contribute to cognitive decline, negatively impact pregnancy and birth and can even cause early death.
These polluting facilities and vehicles would not be allowed in such large and concentrated quantities, nor would this crisis have grown so large, if our communities were whiter, wealthier, and better connected. Instead, we are overburdened by air pollution, which costs the San Joaquin Valley more than $1,600 per person each year. These additional measures are necessary because the San Joaquin Valley has epidemic levels of sickness due to air pollution, a history of failing to meet clean air goals, and is confronting accelerating climate impacts like extreme heat and catastrophic wildfires that only exacerbate these problems.
Given the severity of the public health crisis caused by air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley and the long history of missed deadlines, combined with increasing impacts from climate change, additional actions are long overdue. This new law is also particularly promising because it calls on our government agencies to work hand-in-glove with community groups. These are our neighborhoods — they are our children. We know and are already working on the most efficient, cost-effective, inclusive, culturally competent, and innovative programs and strategies to curb pollution.
The historic inequities that have created the toxic air we breathe every day must be addressed now. Assembly Bill 2550 puts us on a healthier, more equitable, safer path. Our lives depend on this vote and we urge our lawmakers to say “yes” to a healthier future for the San Joaquin Valley.