|REGION: New environmental screening tool stirs debate|
|CARB Updates & News|
|Written by Administrator|
|Wednesday, 12 September 2012 16:01|
BY JANET ZIMMERMAN The Press Enterprise
A state plan to rank communities by the cumulative effects of pollution on residents has raised objections among local business leaders, who say it would kill job development in areas identified as disadvantaged.
The proposed California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool would use existing environmental, health and socioeconomic data to score areas by ZIP code. It would take into consideration such factors as ozone pollution, traffic density, pesticide use, the number of hazardous waste dumps and cleanup sites, cancer and asthma rates, and the number of seniors and children.
The information will be used to guide local policymakers on where to direct resources and programs, said George Alexeeff, director of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, part of the California Environmental Protection Agency.
The tool came out of the state’s environmental justice program, established in 2004, to analyze, prevent and reduce the cumulative impacts of pollution, particularly among minorities and the poor, who disproportionately suffer the effects.
A draft of the tool was released July 30. Alexeeff emphasized that the document is a work in progress.
A number of businesses and industries oppose the ranking system. They are fearful it would create a stigma for already struggling regions and would likely increase the amount of red tape for permits, driving more jobs to states with fewer regulations.
Though the rankings have yet to be completed pending public input, a sample of the 92408 ZIP code in San Bernardino showed a dismal 96 out of a possible 120; the higher the score, the greater the burden. And preliminary maps of the Inland region are shaded dark for exposure and poor health.
The San Bernardino area was chosen because it had high air pollution scores and was fairly high in other categories, including poverty, the number of solid waste sites, and the incidence of asthma, cancer, heart disease and low birth-weight babies, said Sam Delson, a spokesman for the project.
Though calculations aren’t complete, it is expected that some communities in the Central Valley will have comparable scores, he said.
The 92408 is roughly bordered on three sides by Interstates 215, 210 and 10, an area dominated by San Bernardino International Airport, a Stater Bros. distribution center and retail and industrial centers. The northern boundary of the 92408 skirts the southern end of downtown. The neighborhood’s median home value is $109,000. The houses are small and modest, most of them occupied by young families and enclosed by chain-link fences.
Just outside its border, exhaust towers of an Edison power generating station jut skyward and semi-trucks rumble toward several cement plants.
“That’s important information because there are communities that often bear the brunt of toxic exposures, and often those communities also attract more industry because land is cheaper. Why is it cheaper? Because poor people live there. We don’t locate oil refineries in Beverly Hills,” said Carl Cranor, a UC Riverside professor who did early research for the project.
Such a mechanism could lead to additional smog controls or other requirements as a condition of permitting or it may cause decision makers to look at the cumulative effects of all pollution sources in a community, rather than just one business or industry, he said.
Keeping people healthy is good for the economic vitality of a community, Cranor said, and ultimately costs less than pollution controls.
Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, sent an action alert to constituents last week before a hearing on the screening tool in San Bernardino, urging them to voice their disapproval.
“This tool could result in environmental ‘redlining’ that could slow or stop business expansion or development, prevent job creation and hamper economic recovery in some of our neediest communities. In other words, CalEPA will be picking winners and losers when it come to jobs, local economies and local control,” Morrell said.
A “disadvantaged” tag would make an area less attractive to new and expanding businesses, he said, and could lengthen an already complicated permitting process with additional reviews and restrictions.
Lee Brown, executive director of the Upland-based California Construction Trucking Association, which represents 900 companies, said great strides have been made to clean up air pollution, including his industry’s move to lower-emission vehicles. He fears the screening tool could trigger more regulations that would drive more businesses out of state and further hinder development in some areas, particularly those close to freeways.
“When jobs are gone, that gets back to poverty, and poverty begets a lower level of health care,” he said. “Things like education and access to health care can be looked at as a function of jobs, and without jobs, you’re not going to have that.”
Gayle Covey, executive director of the San Bernardino County Farm Bureau, was one of about 30 people to attend the public meeting on the assessment tool and voice concerns. Even though there are areas with landfills, hazardous materials storage and pesticide spraying, they must comply with strict environmental regulations and are therefore safe, she said.
Covey and those at her state office want it specified that the tool won’t be used to regulate business and raise permitting fees or impose regulations to replace polluting equipment. The draft document does not say it would be used to regulate businesses.
Farmers who use pesticides already are under pressure to comply with environmental regulations, and for most of them, moving out of state is not an option, she said.
“Farmers are more likely to go out of business because they can’t afford it,” she said.
Longtime Riverside activist Penny Newman, executive director of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, dismissed the fears of industry and said the tool will help fix years of disparity.
The tool will benefit highly polluted communities like Mira Loma, with diesel trucks and warehouses, and west San Bernardino, which has a bus depot, a rail yard, auto body shops and a concrete manufacturing plant, she said.
It’s true that most people know those communities have serious environmental issues, but “people don’t allocate resources based on what everybody knows,” Newman said. “You have to have a mechanism to identify them to get them into that system.”
In west San Bernardino, Newman’s group has received grants to install air-system filters at three schools near the BNSF rail yard; installed planted medians to reduce pollution; and partnered with Loma Linda University on a health study that resulted in mobile health clinic for the neighborhood. Those sorts of community benefits could result from the state’s new health screening tool, Newman said.
She called the state’s draft a good start but said it needs fine-tuning to include the proximity of residents to a pollution source and using census tracts, instead of ZIP codes, for a more precise picture of how a community is impacted.
Each area considered by the tool — environment, health and socioeconomics — has numerous elements that are averaged together.
If an area had a major Superfund cleanup site but none of the other elements of a category, the averaging would make it “watered down so you don’t get the full picture of what the exposure is,” Newman said.
The aim is to transform the hardest-hit communities.
“Something is already keeping businesses out, and all these communities are getting is the pollution. It’s time they get their fair share,” she said.