In SJV seeking clean air has it been one step forward, two steps back?

California’s San Joaquin Valley is roughly 24,000 square miles in area. It is hemmed in by mountains on three sides and created is a perfect storm for air pollutants to collect and build. And, here, that pollution will stay until air-cleansing winds and/or rain blow and/or wash it away.

Weather does not by itself create bad air in the Valley. So, to expect the weather to be the be-all, end-all in terms of making air clean is not a particularly realistic approach. That’s why other, more effective means of air-cleaning are necessary.

640px-California's_Central_ValleyWhat doesn’t help matters is widely disseminated information, the context of which in this case is centered around the idea that if certain identified pollutants such as ozone and particulates are not lowered in the atmosphere by a sufficient or designated quantity by a specified date, then federal funding for area highways and highway work, yes, that’s right, federal highway funding will be threatened. What is really threatening, as in being scary, is the idea that the reward for being in air compliance is more money going to support highway building which does nothing to curb polluting motor-vehicle travel, one of the more air-destructive, backward-thinking, tacks to take and on top of all that sets a dangerous precedent.

Different approaches such as instituting punitive measures, depending on extent and duration, in contrast could have an air-remedying effect like the current $29 million yearly air-pollution mitigation fee imposed on Valley motorists and business owners for failing to meet an old one-hour federal ozone health standard or fees that local development interests must pay to offset emissions caused from added sprawl. But, these measures are only effective if more pollution is being reduced than what is being created. Air pollution in the Valley is compounded by the ongoing drought which is now in its fourth year which makes reaching and staying in air compliance that much more difficult.

Meanwhile, the idea behind the state mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below that threshold by 2050, how can this be achieved if there is no or limited movement in the area of getting more and more motorists to abandon driving and more-and-more embrace air-friendly and air-friendlier alternatives? Non roadway-based transportation options not only must these be available but must be promoted as well.

One promising alternative in the Valley is just now getting underway – high-speed train travel. Problem is completing Phase 1 of the railway – connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco by way of the San Joaquin Valley – is at best a decade away, though it is a start.

High-speed-rail supporters claim how air quality and travel will be helped and how without a service of this type, additional roadway and airport capacity will be needed in its place in order to sufficiently handle the travel requirements of a growing population. Advocates, moreover, also relate that not only at the local but state level, economies where high-speed rail is to go in will be bolstered. Added to that, there is the promise of the creation of jobs, providing steady work to many who might not have had a job otherwise. Still, others offer, how travel in general, and not just HSR travel, will be made more efficient in places where the fast trains will run.

Most detractors, meanwhile, counter that constructing and operating a line would be too costly. Some say due to what is already available mode-wise, a high-speed rail line just isn’t needed, that it’d be redundant. Add to all this concerns over home (property) displacement associated with this type of construction not to mention the lives disrupted and families uprooted on account of it. The fact of the matter is these direct effects, associated with such projects, cannot be helped. They are part and parcel of the entire building-progress process. As one can see, positions on this vary.

A second approach is one that is technology-based. Through improved technology, there will be emissions reductions. Both approaches may be effective, but making the transition will take time.

One example is greater fuel-efficiency in motor vehicles: cars and light- and heavy-duty trucks. Miles-per-gallon ratings of cars and light-duty trucks is expected to double that of what it is currently by 2025 – that’s a decade away. The same will be true of heavy-duty trucks, which is expected to take effect by 2027. That is one year earlier than the date that California high-speed rail Phase 1 will begin service, a relatively long time in coming about. Add in ultra-low and zero-emissions vehicle use and deployment of non-or lightly-polluting city- and region-based public transportation programs would certainly be of aid in the air-pollution-reduction regard, but there would really have to be a proliferation in use in order to have any significant effect.

So, that leaves emissions-trading strategies, more sustainable-building and waste-reduction efforts, and clean-energy generation to come to the rescue in the more immediate sense.

If the objective and purpose is to make Valley air clean once again, by continuing established and entrenched, business-as-usual practices, well, to be blunt, doing things the same way that they’ve been done and expecting different results, one response here applies more than any other: “Good luck with that!”

Air-quality improvement San Joaquin Valley style, even if it means going back one step to double-step ahead, well, by any measure, forward progress would still be made which is better than none at all or backtracking.

So, what do you say?!

Hint: “Forward march” will suffice just fine! And, this need not be limited to the San Joaquin Valley, either.