Friday, March 31, 2006

San Joaquin Valley Battles Air Pollution

For several years now it has been known that California has struggled constantly to try and meet the air quality standards set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency. It is estimated that currently the air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley area, which encompasses San Joaquin, Merced, Fresno, Kings, Madera, Stanislaus, Tulare, and part of Kern county, is costing residents $1,000 each in health care annually. When you combine this cost along with the price of providing subsidies to the owners and operators of heavy-duty motor vehicles, locomotives, marine vessels, and stationary agricultural pumps, the costs of what it’s going to take to clean up the air pollution becomes a little more apparent. This, the monetary amount, is no little amount. If one were then to add the affects of the daily health problems the community deals with from this air pollution the number would be even higher.
Subsidies to heavy-duty machine operators in the community are being provided by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD). They provide the community with the opportunity to make a contract with them stating that if they are willing to upgrade their equipment so that they pollute less, with the new or upgraded equipment, that they will receive a subsidy for their part in helping clean up the air. Many concerns from that of the expected population growth to the fact that individuals or businesses that were looking to upgrade anyhow may get a break from the government presents some very serious issues. One then might ask, are the subsidies the most effective way to meet the lower level of air pollution in the area? What’s going to happen to health care costs as the population grows? Is there another way to better address the pollution problem in the area? Are the standards set forth for the area even reasonable? At what price are the citizens willing to pay in order to breath cleaner air?
The answers to these questions will not come easily. As can be expected, all other things held constant, if the population increases, one can be assured that the amount of air pollution will rise, therefore increasing the costs of health related issues with dirty air. This author would not suggest that economically subsides would be the best route to reach the desired level of pollution. What might be a bit more effective would be a tax on the fuel that these vehicles use. However, with the understanding that political pressure often overpowers what might be right for the area economically, it is a little easier to see why the government may have chosen this route. As to whether or not the standards are reasonable is still an ongoing debate. Without further investigation on the topic it’s hard to say. What this author knows for sure is that the San Joaquin Valley faces some serious problems with air pollution and it will be interesting to see if the policies they are currently using to battle pollution will continue to be used in the future.

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