The Air Up There

Writer William J. Kelly reported on the health risks associated with small airborne
particles produced by gasoline and diesel-powered engines [“Clear
and Present Danger: The Air That We Breathe
,” Sept. 23–29, 2005]. The article
correctly portrayed these ultrafine particles as a growing health risk in Los
Angeles and other population centers.

Unfortunately, the story leaves readers with the impression that California
is doing little or nothing to address the problem. Commenting on Governor Schwarzenegger’s
efforts to reduce air pollution, Tim Carmichael of the Coalition for Clean Air
said, “As far as we know, there’s been no action on that since he’s been governor.
They don’t even have a plan at this point.”

As former chairman of the California Air Resources Board and, now, as secretary
of the California Environmental Protection Agency, I’ve worked closely with
Governor Schwarzenegger to reduce air pollution in California. In less than
two years, we have made significant progress:

Governor Schwarzenegger provided a record $160 million in funding for the Carl
Moyer Program, which provides incentives to replace old, dirty diesel engines;

The governor launched the Breathe Easier campaign to encourage Californians
to retire or repair older, polluting vehicles;

He established the most ambitious plan of any state or nation to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions (80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050);

He introduced the Hydrogen Highway Initiative, which establishes a network of
hydrogen fueling stations and invests in a fleet of hydrogen-powered vehicles
by the end of this decade.

While some in California have chosen to ignore these accomplishments, the world
is taking note. Great Britain’s chief scientist, Sir David King, said of Governor
Schwarzenegger’s plan to reduce tailpipe emissions, “We now see we’re second
to California — and that is one race I’m delighted to be second in.”

Alan Lloyd, Ph.D., Agency Secretary
California Environmental Protection Agency

William Kelly’s heart is obviously in the right place when it comes to greening
the Southland and the planet as a whole, but his criticisms are misplaced. The
Sierra Club works hard at promoting environmental solutions by operating on
many different fronts and at all levels of society. That includes challenging
proposed development projects like Tejon Ranch and Newhall Ranch that would
gobble up open space and create more traffic; promoting regional planning and
public transit development as a way to give people more commuting choices and
make communities more livable; pushing automakers to utilize the latest fuel-saving
technologies to reduce smog and global warming pollution and to kick our oil
habit; and fighting for fair trade rules so that our local economy and environment
can withstand the negative impacts of globalization. In Southern California,
the Sierra Club has actively opposed (not supported, as Mr. Kelly claims) the
import of liquefied natural gas, particularly the terminal proposed for the
busy port of Long Beach. The club has also launched a True Cost of Food campaign,
stressing the “overhead” paid by consumers for imported and processed foods.
A Sierra Club–sponsored sustainable-food festival on Oct. 18 drew hundreds to
South Coast Farms, an Orange County producer of organic vegetables. A club committee
on air quality and energy issues is pressing local agencies in Los Angeles and
four nearby Southland cities on air quality standards and reporting. Moreover,
contrary to Mr. Kelly’s assertions, the Sierra Club is a strong opponent of
new coal and nuclear power plants, opting instead for major investments in efficiency
and renewable energies like solar. And he is obviously unaware of the extent
to which we are already working very closely with labor unions on a wide range
of issues, from smart growth to pollution prevention to renewable energy. Finally,
it’s worth noting that the Sierra Club’s very agenda is not the product of some
secret cabal, as Mr. Kelly suggests. We have an unusually democratic process
for direction setting. Our leaders are democratically elected by the club’s
members. And we are just about to complete a monumental planning process led
by 1,800 of our top volunteers around the country. That commitment to grassroots
democracy is why we’ve been successful for over a century and it will be our
greatest strength as we head into the future.

Jan Kidwell
Air Quality, Global Warming & Energy Committee Chair
Angeles Chapter, Sierra Club
North Hollywood

Being politically conservative, I tend to take a dim view of much of your news
and opinion writing. You understand, I hope. But I have to admit that I was
totally blown away by your special report on air quality in Los Angeles. After
reading the report, I looked at my asthmatic wife across the table and felt
literally sick. I have not stopped thinking about it yet.


David M. Marquez
Los Angeles

First, I want to commend the L.A. Weekly for the responsible
reporting on the state of air quality that we now live with around the Los Angeles
area. There was, however, one very huge source of air pollution that this excellent
edition apparently let slip under the radar screen. That is aircraft operations.
How many of us have driven past LAX and smelled the raw jet kerosene from jets
as they sit idling, back-to-back, waiting to take off? I know this smell very
well as it replaces the sweet-smelling ocean breezes and permeates through open
windows and doors into the homes east of the Santa Monica Airport. Santa Monica
Airport is another poster child for so much of what was written in this issue
of the L.A. Weekly. Maybe you would consider doing a follow-up about
airport air pollution around the Los Angeles area.

Martin Rubin

As a faithful reader for lo these many years, I must congratulate your entire
staff on the well-researched, wonderfully written, inspiring article on the
air we breathe. In past years, articles in Time, Newsweek, etc.,
have scratched the surface on the air pollution we have in the City of Angels,
but you have outdone them all. Never have I seen such a painstaking project
and so brilliantly presented. I pioneered the first electric automobile in Los
Angeles in Dec. of 1996, the General Motors EV1. I drove 80,000 smog-free miles
and had six years of wonderful adventures until GM pulled the plug, and destroyed
all the electric vehicles, forcing we few leasees to return our cars against
our will. Alas, grasping at last straws, I got hold of Toyota’s electric car,
the RAV4EV, and it is still running around town, causing no pollution. There
are very few of them on the highways today. Toyota has ceased production, and
soon no parts will be left and the electric dream will fade away. What a shame.
Several of my family members now operate the hybrids and to them I am grateful.
It is such a tragedy that corporate greed will shorten our lives by the continuation
of poisoning the air we share. Thanks again for your thorough set of articles
and for the many years of a great publication, the L.A. Weekly.

Charlie McCollister
Simi Valley

Anyone who thinks that kicking shippers out of L.A.’s ports is going to bring
back the region’s manufacturing is pitifully naive. As has been shown in the
controversy over the LNG terminal in Long Beach, if infrastructure projects
can’t be built in Southern California, Ensenada is always right down the road.
A middle class based on unskilled manufacturing jobs is not going to come back
in this country, and especially not in a town where NIMBYs have forced up the
cost of living by screaming bloody murder if someone tries to build so much
as a duplex in their neighborhood (and let’s not even get into Prop. 13).

Pete McFerrin
Los Angeles

Your latest issue on air pollution once again merits a Pulitzer. However, I
noticed several ideas your issue did not develop fully. First of all, a few
months ago, City Beat published an article by various CEOs of solar energy
companies. According to these CEOs, Los Angeles could become the next Silicon
Valley for solar energy. Equally intriguing is the development of nano-solar
technology. With the philosophy that solar energy is ready for production, here
are two ways to jump-start the solar industry. First of all, we must insist
that all reconstruction buildings in the current Gulf Coast disaster zone be
built with solar energy collectors on the roofs and solar-powered water heaters.
The federal government must subsidize the increased building costs. Secondly,
we could install solar energy collectors on the roofs of all buildings in LAUSD
which could then sell surplus energy to DWP. Since the traditional summer vacation
— a time when schools are operating at a minimum — coincides with the peak energy
demand in Los Angeles, LAUSD could make a lot of extra money. (Perhaps the money
spent on Governor Schwarzenegger’s special election would be better spent on
this endeavor. And perhaps CalSTRS would be willing to invest in this program
if it could get an inside deal on solar energy stocks or bonds.) Also I noticed
no mention of switchgrass as an energy source. According to recent articles
in both National Geographic as well as Mother Jones, switchgrass
could produce a cleaner fuel than ethanol from corn — and it thrives on marginal
land. Biomass fuels could even power hydrogen production. These are just two
suggestions. I am sure other readers will come up with more. A sane energy policy
— especially in Los Angeles — will evolve from a mixture of all these ideas.
Incidentally, labeling any attempt to improve the air as “job killer” is a phony
issue. Our current policies are “people killers.” Truth is that we do not need
to choose between jobs and human lives. If Los Angeles becomes the new center
for renewable energy, that industry itself will generate a lot of job growth.


William Joseph Miller

Thank you so much for publishing the recent story “Clear and Present Danger:
The Air That We Breathe” by William J. Kelly. You have proved that L.A. Weekly
is not afraid to get its hands dirty to uncover the truth. Sometimes I feel
like the last person on Earth who knows about the dangerous smog we breathe
every day. Unlike many other smog stories I have read, this one covered the
problem very thoroughly. It is not a simple problem, and it deserves to get
more of this kind of attention. The air isn’t going to get better if just a
few yuppies switch to hybrids, it is going to take much, much more work,
the sooner, the better.

Johanna Bradfield
San Pedro

Kelly responds:

To Jan Kidwell of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, I admire the organization
as one of the only major environmental groups that is grassroots-based and democratic.
I also commend the activities of the local chapter, but would point out that
what happens at the grassroots sometimes does not seem to percolate to the top
of the organization. For instance, Sierra Club has endorsed but not actively
joined Ratepayers for Affordable Clean Energy, a coalition of smaller environmental
and human rights groups that has been at the forefront of legal action to keep
the state from becoming dependent on imported liquefied natural gas. Natural
Resources Defense Council and other major groups have remained neutral on the
issue. I recognize that Sierra Club has fought clean coal and if you read the
article closely, I note that representatives of the Natural Resources Defense
Council were the ones in Sacramento discussing under what conditions the state
should get involved in a Western clean coal project.

To Pete McFerrin, manufacturing and construction jobs in the U.S. generally
pay more than jobs at Wal-Mart selling goods made abroad. Also, manufacturers
in Southern California have been at the forefront of using lower- or non-polluting
materials and processes in making products. More could be made here without
hurting air quality. For instance, turning Southern California into a center
for renewable energy has the potential to create new manufacturing jobs. Installing
solar and other renewable energy and energy conservation equipment in buildings
offers economic development opportunity. Building new rail and rapid bus lines
and rebuilding areas around transit stations to be more dense offers major skilled
employment opportunities too. By contrast, creating a facility to import liquefied
natural gas will provide a few hundred construction jobs for a few years, and
then only a handful of jobs to operate the plant. It will tend to forestall
investment in renewable energy and energy conservation measures, which has the
potential to provide far more jobs, most of them skilled. It is not the environment
versus the economy, but how we shape the economy that is important to our quality
of life.

To California Secretary of the Environment Alan Lloyd, there is little doubt
that the governor has taken some steps to control air pollution. However, to
use a phrase coined by former Vice President Walter Mondale, “Where’s the beef?” The
governor may be in favor of cleaning up diesel pollution, but would not support
Senator Alan Lowenthal’s bill to raise the money needed to merely stop pollution
from growing at Southern California’s ports. Doing so at the Port of Los Angeles
alone would cost up to $16 billion. Including Long Beach might double the needed
investment. While $160 million for the Carl Moyer Program sounds good, next
to the tens of billions of dollars ultimately needed it doesn’t measure up.
Aside from that, it doesn’t require the polluter to pay for cleanup, but instead
transfers money from all of us to the shipping industries. That’s why pollution
from goods movement is growing.

Finally, to David Marquez, your observation that you are conservative but still
concerned about air pollution is extremely astute. Cleaning up air pollution
is a public-health issue, not one of ideology. It affects the health of liberals
and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans equally. Unfortunately, neither
party has done enough to clean up Southern California’s air, leaving all here
to suffer.

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