Smoggy California District Lobbies Congress to Weaken the Clean Air Act

The head of one California air district went to Washington, D.C., to try to weaken the “impossible to meet” standards of the Clean Air Act, on the same day the California Air Resources Board presented its plan to meet those standards.

Smog in the San Joaquin Valley
Smog obscures the San Joaquin Valley below Sequoia National Park. Despite persistent air pollution in the valley, the head of the district's Air Pollution Control testified against stronger regulations. (Ed Keith/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Last week, the head of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, Seyed Sadredin, was in Washington, D.C., to testify in a congressional hearing on ozone. That in itself is not surprising: he’s the head of the public health agency tackling ozone pollution in one of the most polluted air basins in the country. What is surprising is that he was there to promote weakening the Clean Air Act.

Sadredin argued that the Clean Air Act’s newest ozone standard, lowered from a limit of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb, will lead the San Joaquin Valley into economic ruin. He did not dispute the fact that the Clean Air Act has improved air quality in the valley and throughout the nation. In fact, he said, “the Clean Air Act, over the last 40 years, has resulted in a great deal of reduction in air pollution, improved public health and quality of life in many regions, including our region.” But now, he claims, the Clean Air Act has gone too far and must be stopped.

During these past 40 years, industry representatives have claimed that the Clean Air Act was going to bring about the downfall of the American economy. They have all been wrong. The Clean Air Act has improved public health as productivity has risen and our economy has grown.

What does hurt our economy is people missing school and work because breathing filthy air caused their asthma attacks or worsened their heart disease. Industry representatives have cried wolf about the Clean Air Act for decades because it’s easier for their companies if individuals shoulder the cost of their pollution with their lungs, hearts and hospital bills. That approach may benefit a given company’s bottom line, but it hurts the people—the workers—who make up our economy. Shockingly, during the hearing, Sadredin minimized the health concerns of a weaker ozone standard, saying that a narrative about sick children with asthma “tugs at your heart” and is “a good bumper sticker justification for the enormity of the Clean Air Act.”

Even though Sadredin has decided to protect profits over the people in his district, other public servants in California are focusing their energy on reducing air pollution across the state to protect health and economic growth. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has been working closely with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the air district that serves the Los Angeles area, to develop a strategy to reduce pollution from cars, trucks and other vehicles and equipment.

Adopting the measures contained in the CARB strategy will bring the Los Angeles area, home of the nation’s worst air quality, into alignment with federal clean air standards by 2031. Because these measures will be adopted statewide, they will also help the San Joaquin Valley meet federal clean air standards by 2031. Ironically, on the same day Sadredin was in Washington arguing that it’s impossible to meet current and upcoming ozone standards, CARB staff were explaining to their board how it can be done.

The San Joaquin Valley faces serious challenges in its fight for clean air, and the last thing the area needs is a public health agency that puts appeasing industry ahead of protecting the people it serves. Fortunately, the San Joaquin Valley will benefit from the innovative problem solving undertaken by the California Air Resources Board, in spite of its air district’s lobbying efforts in Washington. But it’s likely that progress toward clean air would come faster if the air district serving the residents of this beautiful, priceless region of California decided to put their health first. 

Adenike was the Sr. Research & Policy Analyst / Advocacy Representative for the California regional office in San Francisco, CA, from 2012–2018. She analyzed technical data and policy to support litigation and administrative advocacy focused on air quality, clean energy, and environmental health.

The California Regional Office fights for the rights of all to a healthy environment regardless of where in the state they live; we fight to protect the magnificent natural spaces and wildlife found in California; and we fight to transition California to a zero-emissions future where cars, trucks, buildings, and power plants run on clean energy, not fossil fuels.