Valley air board doing poor job of recognizing reality of climate change

This opinion piece appeared in The Fresno Bee on December 14, 2018.

By Kevin Hall

Climate change denial is alive and well in the San Joaquin Valley. Most worryingly, it is the dominant opinion among politicians serving on our regional air quality board. The eight-county agency handles hundreds of millions of dollars annually in state funds dedicated to reducing greenhouse gases, and the money couldn’t be in worse hands.

At issue is our children’s survival. Not our grandchildren, this generation. The babes and toddlers around us already face an uncertain adulthood due to the latent excess heat stored in the ocean that will be warming the planet for decades to come.

Last year’s jump in global emissions has the world on track with scientists’ worst-case outcome. Under that scenario, sometime between 2030 and 2050 six thresholds known as “tipping points” get crossed at a 1.5 C increase in global average temperature, unleashing natural stores of greenhouse gases that no amount of reductions by humans can reverse.

Yet climate-change deniers on the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District board have gone so far as blame the tragic loss of life in the climate-fueled Camp fire on a lack of logging. They mistakenly claim forest management practices are responsible for all state wildfires in recent years, though the majority of the deadly infernos have been at foothill elevations, and most important, increasingly frequent wildfires of greater intensity are now a worldwide phenomenon.

It’s not possible to provide specific citations from air board meetings so people might witness this appalling ignorance firsthand. The secretive agency refuses to post an online archive of its proceedings.

Clearly this body is ill-suited for its role in helping to address the immediate and long-term threats of our destabilizing atmosphere, despite the threats faced by 4 million, soon to be 6 million, Valley residents.

Consider the risk from wildfire. Foothill communities lying at the mouths of the canyons and river gorges of the Sierra Nevada could face the same meteorological conditions that led to the deaths of unfortunate Butte County residents in Magalia and Paradise. Like here, the populations of those towns were disproportionately retirees, many of whom had physical mobility limitations and couldn’t escape the flames.

All that’s missing, for now, are the high easterly winds that drove the incineration of 70,000 acres in 24 hours, spawned a fire tornado and took at least 85 lives. Such winds are possible here now as the jet stream’s path becomes increasingly unstable, dipping further south and more forcefully into this region.

The urgently needed adaptations and pollution reduction efforts are complex, involved and expensive. And they’re beyond the interest and ability of our air board.

Of its 15 members, two are appointed by the governor for their expertise in health or air pollution-related science; no complaints there.

But of the remaining 13, eight are county supervisors, one each from Kern to San Joaquin. Five more are city council members, two from cities with populations of greater than 100,000 and three from smaller cities.

The white, male, conservative perspective is grossly overrepresented. With less than 40 percent of the Valley population, whites hold 92 percent of these board seats; men, with less than half the population, comprise 84 percent; and Republicans, a mere third of registered voters, are at 92 percent.

This select group is bound to a political ideology that seemingly requires them to ignore basic science and promote an agenda of less regulation, more pollution, and disregard for everyone’s health and safety.

Let’s reform our air board.

This will take state legislation and uncommon leadership from our Sacramento delegation. An earlier attempt lasted five years and yielded minimal improvement. Democrats including Juan Arambula then proved nearly as intractable as their Republican colleagues, and two more recent disappointments were Michael Rubio and Henry T. Perea, both of whom left office early and now work as oil industry lobbyists.

The push for reform and a realistic action plan must come from the grassroots, pressuring politicians at every level of government for immediate action. A volunteer effort, #ValleyClimate, is underway. For a presentation in your community, contact or on Twitter, @sjvalleyclimate.

Milking Sacramento


$500m subsidy, market price guarantees sought for cow manure as ‘renewable’ energy

By Kevin Hall

SACRAMENTO – The California dairy industry has Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) by both teats and is pulling hard, and Hueso is clearly enjoying it.

Hueso scoffs
Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) laughing off objections to the dairy industry’s air pollution impacts and the projected increases under his bill, SB 1440, now working its way through the Assembly committee process.

Continue reading Milking Sacramento

Male Privilege, Misogyny & White Fear on the Campaign Trail

By Kevin Hall

Three candidates are vying to become the next representative for District 7 on the Fresno City Council. The one woman, Veva Islas, and two men, Brian Whelan and Nelson Esparza, will have raised and spent more than $400,000 on the June primary election alone, an unusually high amount in local races. Clearly, there’s a lot riding on this, but for whom? Continue reading Male Privilege, Misogyny & White Fear on the Campaign Trail

Clint Olivier: Diesel Denial

By Kevin Hall

Lame duck Fresno City Councilman Clint Olivier, now in his final year in office and approaching the end of his political career, is disingenuous when he acts as if public health concerns about diesel exhaust are a desperate, last minute attempt to stop a project’s approval, as in the recent Gap Inc vote.

Continue reading Clint Olivier: Diesel Denial

20 Years of Documented Diesel Damage to Fresno Children Ignored by City

By Kevin Hall

Our kids are the canaries in Fresno’s coal-mine-like atmosphere of microscopic pieces of soot and gases.

The more deleterious impacts to their sensitive, developing systems play out over their shortened lifetimes. One in four suffer acute impacts from asthma, about which Mayor Lee Brand once asked if air pollution is so bad why don’t we all have asthma? He was voting in support of wrapping a commercial almond orchard around California Veterans Home at the time.

Continue reading 20 Years of Documented Diesel Damage to Fresno Children Ignored by City

City Council allows Gap Inc. to dump diesel on Fresno students

By Kevin Hall

“The lower we go, the stronger our negotiating position becomes.”                        Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, April 4, 2018

With the latest in a string of negative declarations of environmental impacts for warehouse distribution centers, Fresno government’s institutionalized racist policies and practices have impacted people’s health once more. With its early April approval of the Gap Inc.’s expansion, it also approved potentially thousands of additional daily diesel truck trips by schools and neighborhoods.

Continue reading City Council allows Gap Inc. to dump diesel on Fresno students

Why I said ‘no’ to Nelson Esparza

GRAY EsparzaStudents1
Nelson Esparza took office as a Fresno County Board of Education trustee in December 2016. Four months later he announced his run for city council, later denying that was his plan all along. He hopes to leave the board and students behind after just two years into his four-year term, his first ever as an elected official. (Source: campaign website Nov. 2016)

By Kevin Hall

I was first introduced to Nelson Esparza while he was briefly employed at a local nonprofit, so I agreed to get together and talk politics when he called a few months later. Over a quart-sized ice tea at Irene’s in the Tower, I listened closely as he told me he was running for city council and asked me to join his kitchen cabinet, that close circle of advisers candidates rely on to keep them honest and who have some experience with politics. And I do. Which is why I said no. Continue reading Why I said ‘no’ to Nelson Esparza

The Face of Racism

By Kevin Hall

Brandau mug

A pustule occasionally erupts on Fresno’s complacent face of institutionalized racism. At the Jan. 25 city council meeting it was council member Steve Brandau’s turn. Again. He apparently thought he was cast to play the role of council member Oliver Baines’s anger translator, a la Keegan-Michael Key’s Luther, but Brandau wasn’t joking when he used the pejorative “poverty pimps.”

Continue reading The Face of Racism

Tectonic Forces Converge: Walls of Institutional Racism Sway at City Hall

By Kevin Hall

2. Residents of 'Reverse' Triangle
 Residents of the ‘Reverse Triangle’ in South-Central Fresno before filing their lawsuit challenging the city’s refusal to conduct environmental review of a proposed 2-million-square-foot warehouse complex.  (Photo by Augie G. Blancas, Fresno Building Healthy Communities.

FRESNO – A recent unanimous vote by the Fresno City Council threatens to knock the city’s developer-controlled politics right off their very old foundations. The legislative temblor struck in late January when the opposing plates of profit and public health converged, cracking open a deep fissure in the city’s current land use decision-making practices. At its core are environmentally racist practices at odds with state law and the city’s own policies.

Continue reading Tectonic Forces Converge: Walls of Institutional Racism Sway at City Hall