Clean Air Stakeholders Advocate in D.C. for Continued Progress
The Cleaner Air Partnership, as part of the Air Quality team, advanced mulitiple policy priorities for continued progress in improving our region's air quality in Washington D. C. April 29 through May 3 as part of the Metro Chamber's annual Cap-to-Cap federal advocacy program. The Sacramento Region does not meet state and federal air quality standards for ozone (smog) and has only recently met the standard for small particulate matter, or PM2.5, commonly referred to as "soot."
Seven local elected officials joined air quality regulators and representatives from business and community-based organizations on the Air Quality team to advance four policy priorities at the federal level. The priority issues included continuation of incentive-based solutions for upgrading vehicles and equipment to cleaner technologies; the critical nature of state and local grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for funding local air quality management work; protecting the resilience of our forests and reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire; and encouraging the utilization of biomass for energy and other productive uses.
Elected officials representing the Air Quality team included City Council Members Mark Crews with the City of Galt, Eric Guerra and Steve Hansen with the City of Sacramento; Sacramento County Supervisors Don Nottoli and Sue Frost; Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery; and Director Bill Slaton, Chair of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) Board of Directors.
Having been diagnosed with asthma at two-years of age, Bill Slaton, had a personal story to share about the inexorable link between air quality and health. "Protecting our environment and ensuring we have clean air to breath is not a partisan issue," Slaton said. "Regardless of which political party we support, we all know some one who feels the effects of poor air quality on his or her health," he continued.
Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery eloquently conveyed the importance of biomass utilization, particularly in California's forested areas. "Overgrown forests containing over 100 million dead and dying trees dramatically increase the risk of catastrophic wildfire," Montgomery said. Placer County is working to deploy a small-scale biomass facility that will generate locally produced electricity. "Modern biomass facilities are a great improvement over older biomass facilities in terms of pollution levels," she said. While these facilities do generate small amounts of emissions, these emissions are exponentially lower than those that would be generated by wildfire or open pile burning.
Although many areas in California do no meet federal air quality standards, burning of agricultural and forest waste is a common method of disposal. Open pile burning is often the least-costly disposal method, but generates far greater emissions than modern biomass facilities. The utilization of biomass can help create jobs and economic opportunity, particularly for rural areas where the need for both is great. "Accounting for the societal-benefits of biomass in terms of environmental and economic benefits will help put biomass on par with other sources of renewable energy," Montgomery noted.
John Lane, Project Manager with Teichert Materials and Chair of the Cleaner Air Partnership conveyed the importance of incentives, such as those offered by the Diesel Emissions Reduction program for the business community. "These incentives allow businesses to offset some of the costs of upgrading to cleaner engines," said Lane. Reducing emissions from transportation is important to heavy industry as well because most of our region's air pollution comes from transportation-related sources. "If we're able to reduce emissions from transportation, it lowers the potential for negative impacts and increased costs to the business community," Lane said.
Larry Greene, Executive Director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District (SMAQMD) also commented on the importance of incentive programs such as those that address the reduction of wood smoke. "After 10-years of concentrated effort, our region attained the standard for small particulate matter pollution, or PM2.5, last month," Greene said. "Residential incentives for replacing wood burning stoves and fireplaces with cleaner-burning devices have had a large role to play in that effort."
Erik White, Air Pollution Control Officer for Placer County, and Larry Greene also discussed the importance of EPA state and local grants for funding critical air quality management efforts at the local level. The President's proposed budget included a 31% reduction in funding for these grants which would increase the risk of increased fees on local businesses to make up the budget shortfall and reduce services the air districts provide to business and residents.
Community-based organizations supporting the Air Quality team included the Citizen's Climate Lobby, represented by Jennifer Wood, Sacramento Chapter Coordinator, and Valley Vision, represented CEO Bill Mueller and myself, serving as project manager for the Cleaner Air Partnership. Rod Stinson, Air Quality Planner with Raney Planning and Management joined the Air Quality team as a Cap-to-Cap freshman.
The team held meetings with the offices of both California Senators Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris, Congresswoman Doris Matsui and Congressman Ami Bera as well as the offices of Congressmen Jim Costa, John Garamendi, Doug LaMalfa, and Tom McClintock. In addition, meetings were held with majority and minority staff from the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources, the Environmental Protection Agency and non-governmental organizations including the American Lung Association and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).
Of the many important messages communicated by the Air Quality team to federal officials in Washington D.C., one of the most important messages was the importance of working together toward common solutions. The policy priorities advocated for by the Air Quality team and supported by the Metro Chamber represent the interests of diverse sectors and political viewpoints, that are not always in alignment, working together to improve the health of our communities and our region's economy.
Tammy Cronin is a Valley Vision Project Leader working in the clean air, broadband and clean economy portfolios.