Earth Log

Why leave San Joaquin Valley off nationwide ozone map?

I’m pretty sure I’m blowing this out of proportion, but I can’t avoid it. I think the San Joaquin Valley should be on any map intended to show ozone trends in the United States.

On the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow site, there is such a map. And the Valley is not on it.

I don’t think the EPA intentionally snubbed the Valley. But, really, how could you talk about a nationwide trend of improvement in 2013 and leave out one of the two worst places in the country?

The map shows places such as Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, Boston, New York and many others. Some of these cities have fewer exceedances of the federal ozone standard in an entire season than the Valley has in June.

Despite having its best summer on record, the Valley led the nation in federal eight-hour ozone exceedances last season. Why wasn’t the Valley on this map?

I asked the EPA. The agency says the map is just showing major cities. Fair enough. Let’s take a closer look.

Among the major cities is Salt Lake City with less than 200,000 population and Cincinnati with about 300,000 people. Fresno has 500,000 in the heart of an ozone sore spot in the United States.

On the other hand, large cities with few ozone problems, such as San Diego and San Francisco are on the map. So is Sacramento.

EPA explained that the map is simply showing many U.S. cities saw a decrease in days when the ozone reached unhealthy levels for sensitive groups.

EPA is referring to the air quality index or AQI. It’s a different, more complex and sometimes more subtle measure than exceedances of the federal standard. Fresno’s numbers stayed about the same for that measure, but what about the Valley as a whole?

Los Angeles and its big numbers are on the map. I checked the 2013 readings for the LA monitors. They don’t show as much of a problem as Fresno. It looks like other Southern California areas are being used in the numbers. The same thing could have been done to reflect the Valley’s issues.

So why make a big deal of this? Does this map really mean anything? Does it really matter that cities with few ozone problems are included while the Valley is left out?

No. The map is just informational. It’s not supposed to mean anything. It’s just a trend map for 2013.

But having watched the air regulation agencies for the last 20 years, I have seen many informational reports and trend maps wind up in documents that directly affect funding for air cleanup.

After all, the money for cleanup is what this all boils down to. Population centers, such as Los Angeles, trump smaller cities.