Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 22, 2022 vetoed AB 2550 which would have required the California Air Resources Board to bypass the Valley air district in areas where Valley regulators have failed to meet clean air standards on time. Credit: John Walker / The Fresno Bee

What's at stake:

Newsom's veto shot down a bill written by a coalition of Valley clean air groups that would have strengthened community oversight and bought more pollution sensors.

Governor Gavin Newsom, on Thursday night, vetoed a state assembly bill that would have beefed up the public oversight of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

AB 2550, introduced by Fresno Democrat Joaquin Arambula, would have empowered local communities to audit the Valley Air District’s failed clean air strategies and required the state’s top air watchdog, the California Air Resources Board, to supervise the polluters that the Valley air district has not curbed within Clean Air Act deadlines.

“Governor Newsom’s choice to ignore our pleas for the most basic of human rights — to breathe clean air — will cause continued injustices, additional lives lost, a growing population of asthmatic children and parents, as well as worsening unhealthy air for the San Joaquin Valley,” said Catherine Garoupa White, director of CVAC and one of the authors of the bill, in a statement.

In a short letter explaining his veto, Newsom stated that the oversight plan was “unnecessary,” because the existing clean air plans, designed by the Valley Air District, are already reviewed by CARB and the public.

“Statute already allows CARB to reject a local air district’s state implementation plan element, if CARB finds..that [the clean air plan]…will not provide attainment by the deadline. As such, this bill is unnecessary,” Newsom’s letter said.

Garoupa White said the existing review process has failed to protect the Valley’s public health for the last 20 years and has, oftentimes, encouraged clean air bureaucrats to approve “inadequate” pollution control plans. 

“They continue to pass through plans that are inadequate, that have a bunch of gaps in them, that over rely on incentive money that they know they don’t have, because they say, ‘Oh, well, we don’t want to start the sanctions clock,’” Garoupa White told Fresnoland on Friday.

She cited a recent failure of the present system, when a federal court ruled this spring that the EPA erred in approving a 2018 San Joaquin Valley air pollution control plan that had a $2.6 billion funding shortfall.

Additionally, despite Newsom’s confidence in the review process, the last three efforts by Valley regulators to come into compliance with the country’s oldest annual PM2.5 standard have all failed. Today, the Valley’s toxic, increasing levels of PM2.5 pollution kill more people than car accidents annually.

With more public oversight, Garoupa White said, AB 2550 “would have raised the bar in terms of expectations for what their review process is supposed to look like.” The bill would have supported a community oversight group, added staff members at CARB to study the Valley’s  past, failed clean air approaches, and spent millions to add more local pollution sensors.

But Buddy Mendes, Fresno County supervisor who serves on the board of the air district, said that Newsom’s criticisms of the bill were “100% true.” 

“The bill was unnecessary,” said Mendes, who is also the board chairman of the Fresno County Transportation Authority. “It was just adding on layers to stuff that’s already there.”

Despite the victory on Friday, the Valley air district would not respond to questions about when they plan to meet the Clean Air Act standards under Newsom’s review process. Air district documents show they don’t plan to meet the latest ozone standard until 2037.

“Through cooperative partnerships in the Valley and with the state,” said Jaime Holt, an air district spokesperson, ”the District will continue working to reduce air pollution, and bring unprecedented levels of clean air resources and attention to our underserved communities.”

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Gregory Weaver is a staff writer for Fresnoland who covers the environment, air quality, and development.