As air pollution worsens in the U.S, CCA is working to improve California's air quality and engage its communities.
The act of breathing is so natural that we rarely take a moment to consider it, let alone consider what is in the air we inhale. The State of Air Report by the American Lung Association shows that approximately 43% of Americans live in counties with unhealthy air and that air pollution is on the rise, yet federal air regulations have been weakened over the past 3 years.
These developments may seem grim, but there are a number of organizations in the U.S. that are actively supporting stronger air regulation and increased public awareness. One of these, the Coalition for Clean Air (CCA), focuses on improving air quality, reducing climate change’s effects on communities, and improving local public health. CCA is one of the nation’s leading organizations focused on air quality, and its Deputy Policy Director, Chris Chavez, recently sat down with Stealth Power to talk about CCA’s activities and the importance of air quality.
CCA was founded in 1971 to educate the public on the importance of air quality and on reducing air pollution in California’s communities. “One of the areas we focus on is pollution from transportation,” says Chavez. “Of course, one of our organization's biggest concerns is climate change and how the release of GHGs (greenhouse gas emissions), NOx (Nitrogen Oxide), and PMs (particulate matters) negatively affect health, climate change, and the planet. In California, over 40% of emitted GHGs are from transportation, and figuring out a way to lessen that sector's impact is a real challenge.”
To tackle this, CCA works with state and local governments to promote environmentally friendly programs and vehicle incentive programs, such as the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program (CVRP) and Clean Cars 4 All. CCA also makes sure to provide special support for these programs in low-income communities, which are disproportionately exposed to harmful air pollution.
“There are a few specific programs we are utilizing to achieve our goals,” Chavez explains. “We've partnered with the Wilmington, Carson and Long Beach communities to help implement AB617, a 2017 bill that requires California air resources boards and air quality regulators to develop emission reduction strategies, such as idling enforcement, for improving air quality in California’s most polluted communities. We're also working with these communities to meet mitigation requirements for warehouses by increasing truck drivers' incentives to update their vehicle equipment.”
By supporting the deployment of newer vehicles, CCA is encouraging the reduction in harmful emissions. The newer a vehicle’s equipment, the more efficient and environmentally friendly it tends to be. CCA’s support for these types of programs isn’t solely community-based. They’re also pushing for the creation of a state-wide heavy-duty truck SMOG check program. This program designates a certain number of Smog Check inspections per each heavy-duty vehicle and is designed to help identify vehicles with excess emissions.
Additionally, CCA has launched a program to foster community engagement – the CLEAR Air Quality Monitoring Network program. “It is an air quality monitoring program that helps communities install low-cost air quality monitors that track real-time data on a live online map,” says Chavez. “These types of monitors can be installed anywhere, but we especially focus on areas impacted by freight transportation.” CCA has taken it a step further by partnering with schools to incorporate air quality tests and air pollution monitors' data into their curriculum. “Students from these schools present their data findings to local elected officials, which has been a great gateway into a deeper discussion about air quality,” notes Chavez.
Programs like CLEAR are essential in generating public awareness and involvement. They allow for direct community engagement which Chavez states is vital to CCA and other organizations like it. “What's most effective is when you engage with folks directly,” he says.
Another program that CCA will be involved in that focuses on increasing public interest is California Clean Air Day, a state-wide program taking place on October 2, 2019. The program aims at highlighting the importance of clean air and encouraging Californians to reduce their own air pollutions impacts. “We'll be highlighting 17 individual strategies that people can use daily to reduce their environmental impact and improve their air quality,” Chavez states. “We want to empower people to really embrace these types of changes.” CCA has a goal of 1,000,000 clean air actions for 2019.
These types of programs are important to the overall air quality in the U.S, which Chavez takes to heart. He grew up in Long Island, a community with high air pollution levels. “I had asthma as a child. Some cousins of mine lived in the area too and they also had asthma,” he recalls. “As we now know, areas with high levels of air pollution have drastically higher numbers of children with asthma than communities with low levels of air pollution, and Long Beach has some of the most polluted areas in the U.S.”
It's instances like this that make CCA’s work so meaningful for Chavez and his colleagues. Organizations such as the Coalition for Clean Air are working to improve the public health and welfare of their communities, but their success is dependent on active community engagement combined with the involvement of local governments. Chavez explains, “If governments ensure that the communities they serve are part of the overall process and have ownership, their programs will be much more successful.”
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