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By Jamie Stewart
The Shafter Press 

Air quality panel offers 1st recommendations

 

August 22, 2019 | View PDF



Tighter restrictions on vehicle emission and burning of wood on farms, as well as policies encouraging the replacement of gas engines in farm equipment with electric engines, are some of the first round of recommendations from the Shafter Steering Committee on improving air quality.

The panel was created with the passage of AB617 and was tasked to come up with ways in which the city and its residents can reduce emissions and make the air quality better within a seven-mile radius.

The passage of AB617 resulted in the Steering Committee being formed in Shafter. This committee has been given the responsibility of creating a plan that would reduce emissions in the area surrounding Shafter.

The San Joaquin Valley Air District selected two communities to be the pilot programs for this project, with the intent of modeling their results in other areas. Shafter and the south section of Fresno as the inaugural participants.

The committee has been meeting once a month for the past nine months, with the meetings being increased to two times a month beginning in July. Recently, the committee sent its first set of recommendations to the San Joaquin Valley Air District Board for review. According to committee members, the first few months of the process was spent reviewing the data that had been collected by the different air quality agencies. It was a challenge in the beginning to get accurate data.

“We were trying to make decisions with data that was not complete or inaccurate, so we needed to get the most up to date data and make sure it was accurate,” said former City Manager Scott Hurlbert, a committee member. Hurlbert questioned the data presented at one meeting when it showed a map that had emission levels high in an area that was not populated or traveled through on a regular basis.

Shafter now has two monitoring stations. The original station is at Shafter High School, and the new station was installed at Grimmway Academy off of Los Angeles Avenue in Shafter.

The committee is attempting to create a Community Emission Reduction Plan that would improve the air quality within the city and the surrounding area. A big challenge, according to members of the committee, is the importance of developing strategies that will benefit the community without adversely damaging the local economy.

Former Shafter City Manager John Guinn, a member of the committee, said that it is important to develop a plan that would not harm the industries that operate in the community. “I would not want to jeopardize our economic opportunities or put us in the position that our families don’t have the opportunities because we haven’t been smart about how we manage our resources.”

Guinn also said that a big reason for emissions and pollution problems is geographical. “We live in a bowl, with mountain ranges to the west, south and east trap air traveling south from as far away as the Bay Area.”

On the other end of the spectrum is almond grower and environmental activist Tom Frantz, also a member of the steering committee, as well as an advocate for reducing air pollution in the Valley. Frantz thinks that switching to electric power in the Valley should be a main objective for the district. Frantz said that programs that help the low-income residents of Shafter to replace their vehicles should be implemented, as well as requiring local companies and farms to replace their high-emissions equipment with electric engines and motors.

Another recommendation calls for local farmers to receive incentives to replace equipment with low-dust almond harvesters. These machines are designed to lessen the spread of dust when the trees are shaken to remove the nuts.

An update was given at the last meeting, with presentations given by a representative of the California Air Resources Board and the Department of Pesticide Regulation. Scott Wahl, of CARB, said, “We have worked on different strategies that have taken in the suggestions made by the committee, as well as the proposed requirements that will be in place to reduce emissions in the community.”

The committee has until October to complete an action plan that can be submitted to the San Joaquin Valley Air District Board for review. This plan will then be implemented, and the community of Shafter will be required to abide by the regulations and rules that are listed in the plan.

Once the committee has a complete plan, it will be turned into the district for review. It will then go to CARB, which is expected to review the completed report and recommendations in early February.

At this week’s meeting, it was mentioned that there are at least 2,000 light passenger vehicles 15 years or older registered in the city. It was recommended that a program in which those vehicles could be turned in for an electric vehicle at no cost for qualifying low-income residents. The report recommends that 250 low-income homes in Shafter be equipped with solar energy. The federal tax credit and the DAC-SASH program would pay nearly 100% of the cost. This funding should be made available with either current sources or AB617 funds. The homes receiving this solar will have an electric heat pump installed for heating and cooling, and an electric hot water heater and an electric induction stove.

The committee has now sent a list of suggestions to be reviewed by the district. Among the recommendations are programs to help residents replace their high emission vehicles with electric or hybrid vehicles, as well as a program that would pay up to $850 to repair vehicles that need them to reduce emissions. With an October deadline looming, the committee is awaiting a response on the recommendations that have been submitted thus far.

 

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