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It's not too long ago that smog days were a regular occurrence for schoolchildren in California, especially in communities hit hard by air pollution. A lot has changed since then.
Through decades of emissions restrictions, California has made huge strides in cleaning our air and protecting public health from the worst effects of air pollution.
But there is still more work to do, and the Legislature has an opportunity right now to pass a bill that would dramatically cut the super pollutants in our air.
Senate Bill 1383, authored by State Sen. Ricardo Lara, would set statewide targets for reducing emissions of what are often called short-lived climate pollutants. Specifically, this bill requires California to cut black carbon by 50 percent, methane by 40 percent, and fluorinated gases by 40 percent below 2013 levels by the year 2030.
Setting these targets is critical for California because these pollutants are not nearly as benign as their name might suggest.
For example, black carbon, which largely comes from mobile sources like heavy-duty diesel trucks, is particularly harmful to human health. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, black carbon is linked to a range of serious health effects, including respiratory and cardiovascular problems.
And the communities disproportionately impacted are those near shipping ports and diesel truck routes. While progress has been made to clean up diesel emissions in West Oakland, residents -- and especially children -- are still impacted by the negative health effects of lung-damaging air pollution from the Port of Oakland and the major freeways surrounding the area.
In addition to harming our health, these air pollutants are potent greenhouse gases that threaten future life on our planet.
For example, methane, which largely comes from livestock production and natural gas leaks like the one in Porter Ranch, warms our climate at a dramatically faster rate than carbon emissions.
According to EPA, methane's impact on climate change is more than 25 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.
So even though methane might not exist in the atmosphere for a long time, it has a devastating impact on our climate. And this doesn't simply apply to methane.
Fluorinated gases, which are produced through a number of industrial processes, also have very high global warming rates relative to other air pollutants.
With a historically bad drought and raging wildfires, California is already feeling the effects of climate change.
We cannot afford to turn back now on the progress we've made to combat one of the greatest existential threats we face.
And this is why we have to understand black carbon, methane, and fluorinated gases for what they truly are -- super pollutants.
These potent gases are dangerous for our health and our future, and California must take strong action to cut emissions of these harmful super pollutants.
SB 1383 will ensure that happens as quickly as possible while also focusing these efforts on communities that suffer the worst effects of air pollution.
This important public health bill is on the floor of the Assembly right now and awaiting a final vote. The Legislature should do the right thing and pass SB 1383 for our air, our health, and our future.
Jason Pfeifle, Ph.D., is a public health advocate with California Public Interest Research Group and the CALPIRG Education Fund. He is based in Oakland.
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