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No economic justice for San Joaquin Valley

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POSTED January 5, 2010 3:18 a.m.

The Congressional Research Service in December of 2005 released a 353-page report that dubbed the eight-county San Joaquin Valley as “The New Appalachia.”

The per capita income of the San Joaquin Valley is actually lower than in the 68-county Central Appalachia region that has long been viewed as the poorest region in the country. Rates of welfare dependency are also higher in the San Joaquin Valley than in Appalachia.

San Joaquin County – while not typical of much of the rest of the valley due to its de facto status as the affordable housing solution for the high priced Bay Area and the growing number of jobs moving here that are tied to distribution – is not immune from poverty.

Yet you see no targeted federal program such as in the Appalachias to pull the region up by its bootstraps, so to speak.

What you do see, however, is a complete disregard for the health and economic well being of the area. It took years for California’s air quality regulators to recognize that even if Bay Area pollution that is cleared out  most days by breezes leading inland over the Altamont and Patterson passes ultimately accounts for 12 percent of the air quality problems in Bakersfield that they must also adhere to tougher standards.

Bay Area pollution accounted for close to 20 percent of San Joaquin County’s air quality woes and its impact generally drops off as the air moved south into the lower double digit range. The San Joaquin Valley for years had higher pollution control standards and restrictions that chased off jobs that gave the Bay Area an economic advantage. Finally the inequity was addressed when air quality rules were upped in the Bay Area to match those in the Central Valley as a whole.

Bad air isn’t all that Kern County gets from the wealthy coastal cities. Los Angeles and other Southern California cities own farmland in Kern County where they spread sewer sludge. San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties have rules in effect that bans the importation of sewer sludge.

It is alright to send San Joaquin Valley bad air and human waste from the coast as there is a lack of political force in Sacramento or Washington to block such dumping. It is OK to bypass the San Joaquin Valley - the natural initial benefactor of the Sierra watershed - and export the water to fuel the economic vitality of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.

Now the San Joaquin Valley is about to become ground zero for another NIMBY – not-in-my-back-yard – style project.

The firm Areva has signed a letter of intent with investors to try and pursue the construction of one or two nuclear reactors in Madera County or Fresno County. Granted, the California Legislature has banned the construction of more nuclear plants in the Golden State until the federal government establishes a storage facility for nuclear waste. But like all other legislation, it can be overturned when it becomes convenient for the money interests who tend to be real cozy with the state’s coastal political power bases.

There is no way a nuclear power plant would be a boon to the San Joaquin Valley economy especially considering even those who would build it are workers who likely have skills not found in the region.

Much like the coal mines in the Central Appalachia Mountains, the energy it creates will be for economic growth elsewhere. Meanwhile, the San Joaquin Valley has to provide huge amounts of fresh water – about 136 million of gallons daily – to cool each reactor. That is water that will be taken from agricultural – the prime source of jobs in much of the poverty stricken valley – and from helping support urbanization in the region that includes new job opportunities.

To show you how much the rest of the state has written off the San Joaquin Valley that they depend upon for cheap and abundant fresh food, not a whisper of outrage was heard last week from the usual suspects when Areva announced their  plans.

Had that nuclear reactor proposal been for anywhere on the coast, the high desert or even near Sacramento there would have been immediate howls of protest.

The San Joaquin Valley and its people deserve economic justice.

The nuclear power plant would do nothing to advance such a goal but instead will simply drain the area of water just like Los Angeles and San Francisco have been doing for decades.

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