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Report: Progress made towards clean air
Climate change bad news for Valley
air report pic
For the first time in recorded history, the San Joaquin Valley in 2013 had zero violations of the hourly ozone standard established under the Federal Clean Air Act. - photo by CANDY PADILLA / The Journal

Overall the quality of air Californians have been breathing has seen a marked improvement in the last few years, but air pollution officials are concerned the effects of climate change could negate all the strides made, according to a new report from the California Air Pollution Control Officers’ Association.

The effects of climate change could be especially troublesome for the San Joaquin Valley, which continues to rank in the bottom of the state for clean air.

The report from CAPCOA, which represents the state’s 35 air districts, states there has been “an ongoing trend of air quality improvements across the state,” especially at a time when the population and number of miles driven has increased.

“Although the progress toward clean air has been quite remarkable, the quest for clean air continues,” the report states. “The challenges ahead seem daunting in our motor vehicle-driven society. Examples of the motor vehicle problem exist in the two most severely polluted regions in the state and nation — the San Joaquin Valley (an area with low population density and high traffic volumes) and the South Coast air basin (high population density and high traffic volumes). While these areas have made tremendous strides in improving air quality they are far from meeting state and federal air quality standards.”

While still singled out for poor air quality, the San Joaquin Valley did reach some major milestones in 2013. For the first time in recorded history, the San Joaquin Valley in 2013 had zero violations of the hourly ozone standard established under the Federal Clean Air Act, down from 281 individual hours exceeding the standard in 1996. In 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified the Valley as “Extreme” non-attainment for this standard, meaning that reaching the standard, at that time, was deemed impossible. The San Joaquin Valley is the first and only region in the nation with “Extreme” classification to attain the standard.

Over the past two decades the San Joaquin Valley Air District has implemented more than 500 rules and regulations to help reach the federal standard, like the Check Before You Burn program, as well as giving out millions of dollars in incentive programs, such as switching to electric mowers.

For all of this though the Valley air basin still faces major air pollution challenges, especially as the effects of climate change take hold.

“Climate change and associated extreme weather events have the potential to set back air quality improvements made over decades as local and regional air quality are expected to suffer from a greater number of extreme heat days and increases in wildfires and their intensity,” the report states.

According to a study conducted by Stanford University, climate change may have contributed to this past year’s unusual winter conditions and resulting poor air quality days. The winter of 2013 was the driest year on record in California and with it came prolonged periods of air stagnation. Over the winter, the San Joaquin Valley recorded 38 days of particulate matter exceeding the federal standards, making it one of the highest rates in the state.