SJV air pollution district takes on Smokey the Bear

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has given new meaning to the expression “Big Brother is Watching.”

Hardly a day goes by without “The Fresno Bee” printing an article about how bad the air has become in the San Joaquin Valley. Headlines have given rise to more a respiratory ailments than the bad air. I generally ignore them because I know what they are going to say before I read them. I seldom read beyond the first paragraph or two because I know the local newspaper is once again blaming farmers for all air pollution.

However, the other day an article on the subject caught my eye because it was about the local air pollution control district issuing a citation to the National Park Service. The local air pollution control district is threatening to fine the National Park Service — the federal government — $75,000, according to the local newspaper. The threatened fine is NOT for polluting the valley's air from a small 17-acres fire the park service set to clean underbrush. The threatened fine is for ignoring the air district's no-burn edict.

According to the article, Park Service rangers needed to finish a 267-acre controlled burn in late June so park officials could release standby firefighting crews before the July 4 weekend, a high fire danger time when thousands of people converge on the Sierra Nevada.

The Park Service and U.S. Forest Service have been dealing with fire a lot longer than the local, upstart pollution control district. They understand weather conditions; pollution and all the other factors affecting fire and smoke better than anyone else. Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park officials checked with several weather forecasters, including the federal fire forecasters in Southern California. All but one said conditions on the day the small burn was scheduled would not create pollution in the valley. The one dissenter was the local air pollution control district. The Park Service ignored that one forecast and conducted its burn.

Sure enough the local air pollution control district was wrong. There was no pollution from the small burn and firefighting crews were released. Nevertheless, air pollution people are now threatening to fine the folks in the green uniforms and Smokey the Bear hats.

There is no question everyone needs to do their part in cleaning up valley air. But at what price?

Farmers are getting hammered by the air pollution control district. Many are fearful the air pollution control rules will become so restrictive with Big Brother roaming the countryside with citation books and big monetary fines that they will be unable to farm. The incident with the district and the National Park Service supports those fears.

Wonder what the air pollution control district would have had to say if firefighters on standby for that small burn because of an ill-advised no burn day were late getting to a major forest fire that threatened homes and businesses?

Wonder how the air pollution control district would have felt about getting a bill for a couple hundred thousand dollars in fire losses and extra manpower to control a major forest fire caused because firefighters were twiddling their thumbs while Big Brother tried to flex its muscle?

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