A Brief Note to AQMD
As I write this, our planet’s ecosystem is steadily falling further into collapse. The battle for the survival of life on Earth is heating up (no pun intended), and at the center of this struggle is the tension between the self-determination of working class communities on the frontlines of pollution, private, market-driven development, and the regulatory entities that consistently fail to live up to their missions and enable malfeasance from industry for the sake of “the economy”.
In the South Coast Air basin, comprising four counties and millions of people, we live with some of the poorest air quality in the nation. The impacts of this are felt more strongly in some communities than others. The communities with freeways carrying drayage trucks carving up their neighborhoods; the communities with rail yards literally next to their bedrooms; the communities with oil and gas pipelines under their homes and refineries and storage tanks at the end of their blocks; the communities swallowed up by massive warehouses. The rendering plants, the chrome platers, the peel-off yards, the list goes on and on. The stenches from chemical releases fill our noses and homes. The soot from diesel exhaust covers our homes and lungs. The flares from refineries blanket our skies. The queue of trucks at the ports and warehouses takeover roadways. They’ve been our companions for decades.
So when residents with deadly pollution knocking at their doorstep engage with an agency tasked with regulating these problems, they do so out of urgent need and desperation. Because after years of putting up with these unwarranted assaults, people realize that the conditions they are exposed to are not acceptable and should not be normalized. We then take it upon ourselves to get as educated as possible on the scope of these problems, and generate solutions that will actually address them at the root. We do this with great care, intention, and time that is in addition to trying to survive with low wages, resource-deprived neighborhoods, reduced life expectancy, and bad health.
One of those solutions we have been advocating for is mass investment in, transition to, and deployment of zero-emission vehicles and infrastructure. In June, a coalition of organizations submitted a letter to our regional air agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, challenging the district’s efforts to funnel millions of dollars from public coffers into near-zero technologies. We know that investments in near-zero, and renewable natural gas specifically, is a terrible scheme uplifted from the oil and gas sector that props up combustion-based operations and vehicles, will keep us tied to fossil fuel infrastructure for decades, and continue to worsen our already poor health outcomes. Near-zero investments are not an innocent that needs saving, but a threat to our health and climate that is being fought against up and down the state.
We know the trappings of these types of false solutions because we’ve seen them play out many times over the years. Frontline communities often act as the canaries in the coal mine – struggling to bring attention to these tactics and being dismissed and even gaslit while still suffering under the weight of bad policy shepherded by inept and unprincipled leadership. Years from now we will rue all of the negative impacts, wasted funds, and dangers that will come from expanding near-zero technologies and infrastructure. We will read headlines of leaking pipelines, explosions, stranded assets, and deadly emissions. History will repeat itself.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District will be responsible for this history repeating itself. But we are adamant that doesn’t have to be our future. The health of our communities, and the health of our planet demands that we make a swift change in direction. And so we continue to fight these duplicitous interests – rather than chasing profits, #WeAreJustTryingToBreathe