Air-pollution stories sure to leave you breathless, well, speechless, actually

Through my reading I have become familiar with tales of polluted air that are puzzling, indeed, that just defy logic, cannot be rationally explained, rendering some in observation of, speechless. With this brief introduction, hopefully, the stage is now set for the duo below – some real doozies if I do say so myself.

The first is about a southern California community seemingly caught in the throes of a titanic struggle, apparently, all revolving around how to bring about meeting a state mandate by a certain deadline in order to bring its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions levels into compliance. At the same time the representative metropolitan planning organization or MPO charged with identifying ways through a plan dealing with growth to make GHG emissions compliance possible, appears to be at odds with members of the community over this. Meanwhile, the other tale has to do with yet another community, this time in the U.S. Intermountain West region that even after making tremendous strides in the battle to clean up its dirty air, has yet to win the war on that front.

San Diego wrestles with its SCS/RTP

In 2006, California Assembly Bill 32 (the Global Warming Solutions Act) was passed followed two years later with passage of state Senate Bill 375 (the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act) whereby statewide GHGs must be shaved to levels matching those present in the year 1990. (For more on this, see: “Can, will California’s GHG emissions drop to 1990 levels by 2020?” and “Air Quality Matters – 2014 in review: Mobile sources – Part 3: Aviation”). In other words, the Golden State overall must reduce its annual GHG-emissions output to 427 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) by 2020 so as to be in compliance. Last I read California is on track to meet that target; the state currently at a level of 444 MMTCO2e.

320px-Downtown_San_Diego_from_75[1]Supplementing this is the local requirement to meet SB 375, 2020 and 2035 GHG targets via what is known as Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS)/Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) dictates or directives. Stipulated is that 18 state MPOs are tasked with lowering GHGs at the local level by percentages decided upon by the independent MPOs. Providing regulatory oversight is the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB) which means that each of the 18 SCS/RTP must be signed off on by the ARB. The process seems straightforward enough. San Diego, incidentally, was the first metropolitan area in the state as well as the country for that matter to have its SCS/RTP approved, to the chagrin of many and left in the plan approval’s wake is a city divided.

The interested MPO, in this case SANDAG, the acronym for San Diego Association of Governments, despite two lawsuits filed against the agency, the representative courts both times ruling against SANDAG in regard to the SCS/RTP and requiring SANDAG in each case to do a growth plan redo, still cannot seem to get the so-called strategy/plan correct. In the latest version, the region’s 2035 GHG-reduction target, if I have this straight, will be met by that year. What isn’t exactly sitting well with many in that community is how the plan will be carried out in terms of the target being met. A major focus on the head-end as I understand it is its emphasis on roadway and highway building with emphasis on transit expansion to come only at the tail end.

Many want that changed. If I recall correctly, the way in which (according to the latest plan version) funds are to be allocated, has $100 billion going to transit projects with $104 billion directed to roadways. My sense is this was done as a means to try to find a compromise solution that all parties would be satisfied with, but from the standpoint of a multitude of community members, even this latest plan version in their view still comes up way short with much left to be desired. Will another lawsuit or two be in the offing? Will a plan ever be put forth where the interested majority can come to agreement? If the expression “three strikes and you’re out!” has any relevance or bearing at all in regard to this matter, the concerned MPO would, inarguably, be down to its final strike. Somehow I don’t believe that expression applies in this instance. Be that as it may, it goes without saying that the necessity for getting the SCS/RTP right is paramount.

For more on this issue, see: “To meet prescribed emissions-reduction targets, San Diego must get transportation plan right” and “On beating back emissions, if not now, when?

Mine matters

If that weren’t enough, now hear this. Salt Lake and other counties in Utah have made tremendous strides when it comes to cleaning up area air. So many advancements, gains, achievements have been made in this area, amazed and impressed I think would be even those who maintain the most skeptical of views. And, if I recall correctly, the transformation that has taken place, well, it all started with the notion that the region in 2002 would be hosting the Winter Olympic Games then. One of the major challenges to overcome is how people attending were going to be accommodated and that included athletes and spectators alike. Light rail transit was instituted to help efficiently move the masses in the Salt Lake City metropolitan region. An effort dubbed “Envision Utah,” can be largely credited with the success.

320px-Salt_Lake_City_panorama[1]That said, that area of the state and others at times contend with intense summertime ozone and fine-particulate-matter pollution during the winter when atmospheric inversions happen. There is much heavy industry and mining, substantial roadway traffic, and in winter especially, residential wood-burning activity, all of which assist in reducing the quality of Utah air.

Relatedly, according to Amy Joi O’Donoghue in the Deseret News article “Clearing the air: The air you’re breathing may be slowly killing you,” through a study conducted by a Brigham Young University professor, discovered was a link between improved respiratory health in children and a steel-mill shutdown, as I understand it.

But, it was a different industry, mining, this time, that really stood out all because the interested copper-mining/smelting operation wanted to expand operations. It was not so much that the company wanted to expand its operations that had critics up in arms as it was the way it wanted to operationally expand.

For the identified company (at the time the O’Donoghue article in question was published Aug. 11, 2012), plans were to sideline a trio of boilers (all of which were coal-fired, by the way) and in their place the concern wanted to substitute both another boiler and a turbine powered by natural gas. Those staunchly opposed felt this move to be sorely inadequate, apparently, from an emissions-reduction point of view since it would mean leaving in place and operating one existing coal-fired boiler. Why when the company in regard to expanding did not want to just do a clean sweep so to speak and remove all coal-fired boilers and replace with natural-gas-fired boilers and/or turbines is puzzling. The one coal-fired boiler the company wanted to retain was for the purpose of maintaining “diversity” of its portfolio of power-generating equipment, according to the copper-mining-company spokesperson that O’Donoghue cited in the article in question. Confused?

Coal_bituminous[1]I realize all that I wrote is a lot to absorb and process. And, looking at all of this in the grand scheme of things, still, I ask: “Why?” or perhaps the better question might be “Why not?”


Department of corrections: The Utah industry referenced in the original post was mistakenly identified as a utility. The post has since been revised and incorporates the corrected information.

– Alan Kandel