The San Joaquin Valley’s blessing is its curse.
It was once part of a great inland sea stretching 450 miles from the Cascade Mountains north of modern-day Redding to the Tehachapi Mountains just south of Bakersfield. It varies in width from 40 to 60 miles bordered by the mighty Sierra to the east and the Coastal Ranges on the west.
The retreating sea left two things immensely valuable to modern civilization especially in the San Joaquin portion of the Central Valley – arguably the world’s richest farm soil and the Monterrey Shale, one of the largest known oil reserves in the United States.
The Central Valley generates 8 percent of the nation’s food supply using 1 percent of the land that’s devoted to farming in this country.
At the same time the giant bowl created by nature also serves as a big catch basin for air pollution.
In 1985 the smog was atrocious. Seeing the Sierra from Manteca was a rare occasion unless it was after a heavy rain followed by strong northerly breezes. Nearby Mt. Diablo was often in a haze.
It was much worse in Bakersfield. The mountains that rise suddenly some 10 miles away along the Kern River rarely could be seen in summer from Highway 99.
Now some 28 years later the pollution has been slashed by more than 50 percent despite the population almost doubling.
Stationary sources of emissions are down a whopping 83 percent.
No one should argue that the region should rest on its laurels. Air quality must continue to improve. But at the same time there needs to be realistic goals.
Based on Environmental Protection Agency standards now in place that the valley is under the gun to attain, you’d have to ban all vehicle travel, eliminate all trains and planes, plus silence farm and off-road equipment. Even then, the valley would fall short of the EPA mandates.
This is not just a valley problem. This valley literally feeds more than 25 million Americans plus exports food to more than 100 countries. We spend tons of federal dollars investing in strategic countries that have oil or other minerals vital to our national needs and even dispatch troops. Meanwhile we treat a vital region in our country that can’t be replicated when it comes to food production as if it doesn’t matter.
If you doubt that consider this: The Congressional Research Service in 2005 issued a report that called the San Joaquin Valley the new Appalachia. It was in reference to low incomes and high poverty rates that plague many parts of the valley as well as literacy and pregnancy rates and health issues. At the same time, SJ Valley counties contributed excessively more in federal taxes than they receive in federal benefits. That contrasts with the Appalachia Valley and many areas of the nation that are much better off that receive more federal tax dollars than they pay.
While what Uncle Sam takes from you and then doles back out shouldn’t be a measure of consequence, it does matter when you combine it with draconian federal regulations that are essentially imposed in a vacuum.
The air standards were modeled for a typical region. The reason why the Northern Plains states have minimal air problems has a lot to do with the windswept flat geography.
Back when modern civilization didn’t exist, the smoke from a prairie fire in North Dakota wouldn’t linger long. Grassland fires in the valley do. Add to that smoke from forest fires in the surrounding mountains.
Obviously fires aren’t the problem in the valley – at least for the most part. But they are part of the natural air quality conditions. Fires at one time burned for weeks and even months. Rest assured 300 years ago the Bakersfield region would have been a much less healthier place to be during fire season.
If a relaxation of the mandates doesn’t happen and people still need to eat, then Congress had better come up with a real radical plan. That would include relocating about 6 million people or so to elsewhere in the country, rerouting the two major West Coast freeways as well as Interstate 80, take out all rail service, and then come up with some way to grow food in the same volume today without machinery that generates air pollution.
People outside the region need to understand their role in the valley’s air woes.
The reason San Francisco and much of the Bay Area has considerably cleaner air isn’t because of government. Instead it is Mother Nature’s cleaning breezes that push over 20 percent of their particulates through the Delta and Pacheco Pass into the Central Valley.
Despite how green smug San Franciscans can be at times, the city only exists because natural resources are imported – namely water from other sections of the state not to mention food.
Pressure needs to be brought by the likes of Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi – politicians whose district and or hometowns benefit immensely from the redistribution of natural resources – to bring some sanity to the EPA requirements.
If not, enjoy a meal of printed EPA mandates. Paper has a lot of fiber and, although not tasty, can be quite filling.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209-249-3519.