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Valley Locales Striving For Pollution Reduction
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An old, gas-powered lawnmower causes as much air pollution as 40 modern vehicles - because it has no emission controls. That was one of the revelations an official of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District made on Aug. 8 to the Riverbank City Council.

The Valley's main pollution problem is geography, said John Cadrett. It lies in a basin surrounded by mountains and in summer is "like a bowl with the lid pressed down tight," giving no escape for the heat and pollution. For sure, there are some Delta breezes but they are not strong enough to break up the inversion layer, he explained.

Other issues are the area's poverty, unemployment running around 20 percent (instead of 9 percent for the state overall), rapid population growth and the two major traffic corridors of Interstate 5 and State Highway 99. (See related story.)

The Valley's air pollution control district has managed to achieve an 80 percent reduction in pollutants among stationary sources such as factories, gas stations, paint shops and so forth. This year it recorded the cleanest days ever for both winter and summer but it still has no control over vehicles that cause more than 80 percent of the total pollution.

"That reduction was not cheap either," Cadrett said. "The businesses spent $40 billion to reduce pollution between 1980 and 2000. And population is still rising."

In summer the problem is with ozone, a heavy gas that hugs the ground. In winter the trouble is with particulates, small solid particles that hang around on cold, foggy days and can enter and harm the lungs.

The district's job is to protect public health; control pollution without disrupting the Valley's economic prosperity; keep the public informed; give good customer service; show ingenuity and innovation; make effective and efficient use of public funds; and respect the opinions of all residents.

"We've had some success. When we first started we went around studying other pollution control districts for ideas. Now many of those are turning to us," Cadrett added. "We have some of the toughest rules in the country. We also have the lowest permit fees in the state."

On a scale of 600 points, heavy-duty trucks emit 250 points and passenger cars another 100 points of the pollution.

Striving to make air pollution controls 80 percent tighter, the federal government has threatened; first, to issue a de facto ban on new businesses and the expansion of old - de facto because it would be impossibly expensive to meet the permit standards; second, to cut off federal highway funds; and third, to have the federal government assume command and take away local district control.

A few years ago, in Atlanta, Cadrett said, the federal government proposed (but never effected) "drive and no drive days" based on vehicle license plate numbers.

"But the public must participate. We cannot achieve lower pollution on the backs of the businesses alone," noted Cadrett.

Using an electric instead of a gas-powered lawnmower would be an example of the way an individual resident could help.