As a physician, I see many patients every day. Whether it is asthma, COPD, or other chronic respiratory diseases, it is evident that poor air quality is having an impact on our community’s health. Unfortunately, I see these impacts far too often in Fresno.
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The Fresno region, and much of the Valley, ranks among the worst air quality in the nation. In the most recent State of the Air report from the American Lung Association, Fresno ranked third worst for ozone, or smog pollution, and particle pollution, largely caused by vehicle traffic and freight.
California has some of the strongest policies in the country to reduce vehicle emissions through both zero-emission vehicles and clean fuels. Those policies are an important tool to decrease vehicle emissions, but we need more tools to solve the problem. We must address the fundamental changes that need to happen in our state’s land use planning and transportation system decisions.
To clean the air and improve health we must change the way we have designed our neighborhoods for decades.
We have placed the focus on sprawl that leads to increased traffic and air pollution while reducing the ability for residents to walk, bike or share a ride for even the simplest of errands. It is time we make regional planning decisions based on public health and reduced air pollution.
Last week the California Air Resources Board started the process to update regional climate targets for 2020 and 2035, focused on reducing emissions through land-use and transportation decisions.
These targets, originally established by state legislation in 2008, will guide community-planning decisions in Fresno and beyond to limit air pollution from vehicles. For public health, it is critical the Air Board pass the strongest targets to continue efforts to reduce air pollution.
Breathing unhealthy air can affect everything from birth weight to school performance, and it can lead to an increased risk for a lifetime of lung disease. Air pollution is connected to increased asthma rates, emergency room visits and hospitalizations, and even premature death.
The San Joaquin Valley is one giant basin, which naturally traps air pollution. We can't change our geography, but we can urge regional planners to consider public health when designing neighborhoods and transportation systems for easy access to schools, work, entertainment and shopping.
The regional climate targets set by Senate Bill 375 in 2008 are already working to better align community planning with state goals to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Our state and local leaders must now accelerate the progress to achieve California’s bold vision for climate action and healthier communities.
Local governments especially should take advantage of state financial resources now available to them to build healthier communities. California’s Climate Investment Program, funded through cap and trade funds, combined with other state funding, is available to support sustainable, healthy community planning, transit, active transportation and more.
One key example of this is the Transformative Climate Communities grant program that will invest $70 million into Fresno communities in the next year, with pending proposals for energy efficiency, solar and urban greening projects in Southwest Fresno worthy of state funding. We can build on the success of our community voices and build a healthier Fresno for everyone.
I join with physicians from around the state to urge the California Air Resources Board to make health improvement the top priority and adopt the strongest possible regional climate targets together with other strategies to reduce vehicle dependence.
I call on our local government officials to take advantage of those climate funds now available to make our communities healthier and reduce air pollution. We must continue to do everything we can to fight for clean air in our region. Because if we can’t breathe, nothing else matters.
Dr. Praveen Buddiga is a specialist at Family Allergy Asthma Clinic in Fresno and a volunteer with the American Lung Association in California.