EPA gives million to clean Central Valley's air

Regional administrator visits Merced, other Valley cities to promote solutions.

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 25, 2012 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday announced a $5 million investment in the San Joaquin Valley to try to solve some of the most pressing issues in what is one of the most polluted regions in the country.

An additional $16 million in grants also was announced to help curb diesel emissions and to improve air quality and public health throughout California.

EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld, who began a tour of the Valley on Tuesday, made stops in Stockton and Modesto, and at UC Merced. He noted that the Valley has some of the nation's worst air quality.

"EPA's job is to help protect people's health," he said. "Those people (in the Valley) deserve the same air quality of every other single American, so EPA is working with many stakeholders to improve the air quality."

The EPA's goal is to bring together such federal agencies as the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation to examine the issues facing the Valley and come up with funding to address some of the problems the Valley has been trying to solve for many years, he said.

Blumenfeld said the majority of the funding will go to retrofit locomotives. The $5 million will help pay for cleaner train engines throughout the Valley, and for a state-of-the-art locomotive that will operate between the port of Stockton and Lodi. The train, unveiled Tuesday morning in Stockton, is designed to reduce the emission of nitrogen oxides by about 90 percent and increase fuel efficiency by about 50 percent.

Diesel pollution risk

Pollution from diesel engines remains one of the most significant health risks in California, according to a news release from the EPA. The California Air Resources Board estimates that about 9,000 people die prematurely each year as a result of exposure to fine particle pollution such as diesel exhaust, the release said.

The EPA also launched a new blueprint for the Valley. "The strategic focus is saying that the Central Valley is an important region for EPA and we want to highlight the needs to the people in Washington, D.C., and really bring together all the parties to try to help meet those challenges," Blumenfeld said.

As for his tour of the Valley, he said it's amazing that people don't know all the important activities going on in the region. "There's amazing research happening at places like UC Merced," he said.

He said there are worthwhile opportunities in the area of sustainability in Central Valley cities, such as Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield. But it's also important to bring together various stakeholders. For example, "there's an exciting partnership between the city of Merced and UC Merced on issues of sustainability that really move the agenda quicker."

He said the university needs real-life problems to solve and the city needs a research lab to help solve those problems.

As part of his visit to UC Merced, Blumenfeld met with university officials and students. He also toured the Sierra Nevada Research Institute.

Earlier Tuesday, Blumenfeld was at the Central California Traction Co. Rail Yard in Stockton and at an almond processing facility in Modesto.

Today, he will visit the California State University, Fresno, campus, as well as Clovis and Visalia.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at

(209) 385-2482 or

yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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