A report released today by the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at California State University, Fresno documents the need for San Joaquin Valley residents to understand and be involved in the region’s air quality policy landscape.

“The Long Road to Clean Air in the San Joaquin Valley: Facing the Challenge of Public Engagement” provides policymakers and residents with practical recommendations to enhance the public’s engagement around air quality policy issues.

Authors Dr. David Lighthall and Dr. John Capitman said the primary motivation for their report was to understand and help resolve the contradiction between high public concern and low public engagement.

The San Joaquin Valley faces unique geographic and weather patterns, rapid population growth and negative social and environmental consequences of agricultural production, which make it difficult to address the region’s air quality issues.

“Because the current health impacts of air pollution are so pervasive, new efforts are needed to increase the public’s engagement with the issue,” said Lighthall. “These efforts include people’s understanding of air pollution causes and solutions, their direct participation in the policymaking process and their organizational representation in the process.”

The report analyzes the policy debate over the Valley’s ozone attainment plan and highlights important findings from six focus groups of Valley residents conducted during the past year. Participants told researchers they see the region’s air quality concerns as a collective result of more people, rapid growth and more vehicles combined with an economic system that fails to make everyone pay the full cost of their air pollution. Most importantly, participants viewed driving as the primary contribution to the region’s air pollution and said that driving was the focus of their own efforts in reducing air pollution.

The majority of participants said new air pollution regulations are needed and that they preferred pollution fees or larger registration fees as incentives. The majority also showed a willingness to take personal action in a policy arena.

“The Long Road to Clean Air” outlines 10 critical conclusions and practical recommendations for the non-expert audience. Among them are:

The fundamental responsibility for the San Joaquin Valley’s air pollution problem lies with the federal government: Inadequate technical standards for mobile sources of pollution have resulted in environmental injustice for regions like the Valley that are highly susceptible to air pollutants (i.e. low carrying capacity).

Our clean air bank is overdrawn: Given the rapid growth of the Valley and the severe health consequences of air pollution, each sector of the Valley (i.e. houses, trucks, dairies, etc.) should reduce its overall emissions, even as it continues to grow.

Incorporate the principle of market failure as a policy principle: The Valley faces a huge price tag for rapid cleanup of pollution sources. How do we distribute this burden without harming jobs and the regional economy? Businesses and consumers are not paying full price for air pollution in the Valley. Licensing fees and market transactions should better reflect the amount of pollution generated to create a market incentive for cleaner technologies and vehicles.

For more information, please contact: Brandie Campbell at 559.278.7940 or 559.994.3189; e-mail bcampbell@csufresno.edu.

A copy of this report will be available online at the end of this week at: www.cvhpi.org.

About the Central Valley Health Policy Institute

The Central Valley Health Policy Institute is committed to engaging residents and decision makers in public health policy discussions and activities on leading issues. Since its inception in 2002, the institute has evolved as one of the region’s leading repositories for health policy education, research, training, technical assistance and leadership. Funding for this initiative was made possible by The California Endowment.

The Central Valley Health Policy Institute is housed under the Central California Center for Health and Human Services and the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State.

About the Authors

Dr. David Lighthall is a senior scientist for the Central Valley Health Policy Institute. His research expertise includes agro-environmental policy, food systems analysis, water resource management, environmental health, technological risk and air quality policy.

Dr. John Capitman is executive director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute. He brings an extensive background in research and is nationally renowned for work in health disparities, long-term care, substance abuse and racial and ethnic disparities in cancer care.