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Air Quality and “Exceptional Events” – A Primer

For more than 35 years, the Cleaner Air Partnership (CAP) has been the Sacramento region’s most prominent voice focused on advancing partnerships between local government, industry, and environmental groups to improve air quality. Key to our mission is the identification of win-win-win opportunities for collaboration between these sectors.

Some of our coalition “wins” have included successful advocacy for legislation in 1997 to require the Bay Area to implement NOx reduction in their smog check program (which was disproportionately impacting our region), establishing a permanent CARB Board seat for a Sacramento region representative in 2012, and the designation of South Sacramento-Florin as a first-round AB 617 environmental justice community in 2018.

Public education is particularly important as we think about issues that impact public health – simplifying complex air quality topics is a core Cleaner Air Partnership activity as part of our quarterly Luncheons, Technical Advisory Committee meetings, and related efforts.

Last month, our region’s largest public radio station, Capital Public Radio, published several pieces related to the “exceptional events rule” utilized by air quality regulators across the nation:

The best definition of “exceptional events” comes from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD): “Exceptional events are unusual or naturally occurring events that can affect air quality but are not reasonably controllable using techniques that tribal, state or local air agencies may implement in order to attain and maintain the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Exceptional events may include wildfires, high wind dust events, fireworks, prescribed fires, stratospheric ozone intrusions, and volcanic and seismic activities.”

All of the news articles question the value of the exceptional events rule to public health, purporting that the rule “wipes air pollution from the record.” Put simply, this is inaccurate information that mixes up different air agency activities, resulting in a false characterization of what the rule actually does. These processes are described below:

  • Activity #1: Air Quality Management: At its core, air quality management in the United States means implementation of the Clean Air Act, “the comprehensive federal law that regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources.” The Act sets policy interventions such as emission standards for anticipated and controllable sources of pollution. By definition, an “exceptional” event is unanticipated and not amenable to policy controls.
  • Activity #2: Federal Air Quality Monitoring: The purpose of air agencies conducting Federal air quality monitoring is to track the progress of regulatory actions and pollution reduction measures taken by federal, state, or local authorities for emission sources under their control (such as permitted facilities). However, “exceptional events” are outside the control of air agencies. For example, when there’s a wildfire in Paradise that creates toxic air pollution in Sacramento, there isn’t a policy mechanism at the local government level to do anything about it beyond exposure reduction. To say that pollution from wildfires is being “erased from regulatory consideration” isn’t accurate, considering the jurisdictional ownership over the issue.
  • Activity #3: Data Management: All Federal air quality monitoring data, whether it is collected during an exceptional event or not, is always available to the public and is never deleted. It is critical that the air monitoring results, which are collected and reported by air agencies on an hourly basis, are made available in a transparent and easily accessible manner.
  • Activity #4: Public Health Communications: Air agencies are also tasked with communicating air quality conditions to the public, via tools like our local Spare The Air. These important tools help communities decide how and when to protect themselves from exposure to any air pollution throughout their day. Contrary to the reporting cited above, air quality data from exceptional events *is* indeed included in all public health-related communications from air agencies, including Spare The Air, and public health agency records.

As you can see, it’s important to understand the role of federal, state, and local air agencies under the Clean Air Act. Data is not gathered for one single purpose, as agencies have multiple obligations to serve the public. While the exceptional events rule is rather technical, it is important for media outlets to understand the nuances of the issue before broadcasting misleading information to the public.

In partnership with regulatory agencies, environmental health organizations and the public, we have been steadily improving the region’s air quality over the past five decades,” said Jennifer Finton, CEO of Breathe California Sacramento Region. “Exceptional events are merely a designation to account for unforeseen concentrated increases in air pollutants. During these exceptional events and throughout the year, the public can take steps to protect their lung health by following the guidance provided by local health departments and air districts. Individuals can play a critical role in minimizing climate change’s effects on these exceptional events by using active and clean transportation modes, among other behavior changes.”

In a world without the exceptional events rule, our region would have a lot of problems: (1) legally-binding air quality attainment (whether we meet specific air quality goals set by the Clean Air Act) by air agencies would not be possible,  (2) As a consequence, we would lose out on funding for transportation and land use projects, and (3) air agencies would not be able to actually do anything to address the sources of the exceptional events, because they lack the regulatory authority.

The exceptional events rule is a critical tool in understanding the progress the region is making in continuing to reduce emissions from our local sources,” said Erik White, Director of the Placer County Air Pollution Control District. “Without it, we would not be able to craft effective local strategies to continue reducing emissions, especially for our most vulnerable citizens.”

The Cleaner Air Partnership is committed to simplifying and successfully communicating these complex topics to our communities. As with the “exceptional events rule,” we will continue to ensure that accurate information about air quality is disseminated as a resource for the public. To keep up with the Cleaner Air Partnership, sign up for our “Cleaner Air News” email newsletter here (select ‘Clean Economy’).

Air Quality Data Now Monitored in Sacramento Frontline Neighborhoods

Over 20 air quality monitors being installed on rooftops by community groups in North Sacramento and Oak Park to collect needed data.

SACRAMENTO, CA – JUNE 29, 2021: Efforts to advance environmental justice for frontline Sacramento neighborhoods reached an important milestone with the launch today of a new public data portal that offers live readings from more than 20 rooftop solar-powered air quality monitors. The equipment is part of a larger grant from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), awarded in 2020 to the Sacramento Neighborhoods Activating on Air Quality coalition (SNAAQ).

“Sacramento suffers from serious air quality and public health challenges,” said Patrick Guild, Chief Operating Officer of Breathe California Sacramento Region. “But there are some neighborhoods like North Sacramento and Oak Park that have long been air monitoring ‘deserts’ and we have very little understanding of how poor the air quality may be for residents living in those communities.”

CARB’s Community Air Protection program is meant to help residents of high pollution-burden communities better understand air quality conditions at a block-by-block level and to address environmental injustices. The rooftop monitors measure particulate matter (PM 2.5) and NOx, two types of pollution that cause adverse health impacts that disproportionately fall on communities of color who generally live where pollution concentrations are highest. The new air monitoring equipment is now collecting and transferring data to a public portal, giving residents and advocates a much better understanding of the conditions in these neighborhoods. The data will be evaluated and ultimately will help residents determine future actions and needed investments.

“I think about the generations before and after me, from a researcher’s point of view, and I wonder how many have asthma, allergies, and other health conditions based on factors from their zip codes,” said Nykchasia S. Scott, MSSW, a North Sacramento resident and part of the all-resident committee who determined air monitor locations.

The SNAAQ coalition is comprised of area nonprofits Valley Vision, WALKSacramento, Breathe California Sacramento Region, and Green Tech Education, in partnership with neighborhood residents and clean air advocates who are working together to identify priorities for action that could likely include securing additional funding for clean air projects in our local communities and advocating for new statewide policies and regulations that reduce air pollution.

“This project is fundamentally about ensuring that all residents in our communities are afforded the basic rights to live, work, go to school, play, and pray in a safe, healthy, and clean environment,” said Kiara Reed, Executive Director of WALKSacramento. “We are providing the tools and information that these frontline communities need to adequately and proactively address air quality concerns in their own neighborhoods.”


About Valley Vision: For more than 25 years Valley Vision has used research to help governments, businesses, foundations and community groups better understand the issues facing our region. We believe that knowing and understanding the facts is the best way to establish a common working foundation for collaborative problem-solving. That’s why Valley Vision conducts, produces and interprets research including scientific public opinion polls, focus groups, community needs assessments, best practice studies and other research tools to bring to light the information local leaders need to improve our communities.

About WALKSacramento: WALKSacramento is a nonprofit planning and advocacy organization that improves quality of life and health equity in the Sacramento Region through community-centered policy and systems change in land use, transportation, and community development. For the last 20 years, WALKSacramento has worked closely with residents and community partners in institutionally underserved communities to empower community voices and co-create healthier, more equitable, and sustainable neighborhoods for all. 

About Breathe California Sacramento Region: Breathe California Sacramento Region is an air quality and tobacco cessation-focused nonprofit that has served Sacramento for more than 100 years. Recognizing the significant impact that lung health has on the overall health of all communities in the Capital Region, Breathe has prioritized two significant areas of lung health in its mission: improving environmental air quality and eliminating commercial tobacco use through meaningful community engagement, enriching educational efforts, strategic partnerships, innovative programming, and effective advocacy.

About Green Tech Education: Established in 2008, Green Tech is committed to providing career technical education, job creation, job training, and entrepreneurial opportunities in the green economic sector. The program serves as a critical economic development resource for youth from underprivileged backgrounds. Green Tech is charged with simultaneously developing clean energy workforce skills and reversing the negative human impact on our environment.

Wildfire Preparation and Air Monitoring Efforts Heat Up

On Friday, August 30th in Sacramento, local leaders heard new eye-opening statistics about the state of California’s forests. Compared to last year’s 1.2 million acres burned in wildfires across the state, this year has been far less destructive, with less than 5% of 2018’s fire-scarred acreage burned so far in 2019. With under four months to go before 2020, there is hope that we can continue to manage wildfires at the current pace and save lives in the process.

Every three months, the Valley Vision-managed Cleaner Air Partnership gathers business leaders, agency representatives, environmental advocates, elected officials, and others to discuss pressing topics in the air quality space. On August 30th at the Sacramento Regional Builders’ Exchange (SRBX), 55 attendees had a conversation about the State of California’s wildfire preparation efforts and received an update on implementation of Community Air Protection efforts (also known as AB 617) in the South Sacramento – Florin area. A full video of the gathering can be viewed here.

The meeting kicked off with an update from Pat Shelby, a resident of the South Sacramento community where Florin Road crosses Highway 99. This community faces deep environmental inequities related to air pollution in particular, and last year was designated one of ten AB 617 implementation communities across the state. AB 617 (also known as the ‘Community Air Protection Program’) empowers residents to take ownership of air monitoring and community investments meant to alleviate environmental injustices. Currently, Pat serves as Vice Chair on the Community Steering Committee which is guiding deployment of air monitors and working toward a Community Air Monitoring Plan, in partnership with the local Sac Metro Air District, to be informed by the monitoring data. The Committee meets monthly and the public is encouraged to attend. You can find more information, including an upcoming meeting schedule on the Sac Metro Air District website.

A Steering Committee of South Sacramento – Florin residents is guiding clean air investments to improve air quality and to alleviate environmental injustices.

A panel of wildfire and forest management experts then took the stage: Supervisor Brian Veerkamp, representing the County of El Dorado; Evan Johnson, Executive Officer at the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and head of the Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery; John Melvin, Staff Chief for Resource Protection & Improvement at CAL FIRE; and Matthew Reischman, Assistant Deputy Director for Resource Protection & Improvement at CAL FIRE. Matthew provided the following eye-opening wildfire statistics from January 1st to August 26th:

  • In 2018, there were 5,300 fires across the State
  • In 2019 so far, there has been a total fire count of 4,200 fires, which is shaping up to be a similar total to 2018
  • In 2018, 1.2 million acres burned statewide
  • So far 2019, only 55,000 acres have burned (27,000 acres in the state responsibility area, and 28,000 on federal land)
  • Typically, CAL FIRE keeps 95% of wildfires on state-managed land to 10 acres burned or less

Of course, this begs the question – why are we in such better shape this year compared to last? Panelists provided a number of reasons for the improvements. This year Governor Newsom and the Legislature provided CAL FIRE with additional fire suppression resources and aircraft to combat fires. Our state continuously setting records for its worst historical fire season over the past five years has resulted in a deeper awareness of catastrophic wildfire and the danger it poses. Two “wet years” following an extended drought period increase health of trees and surrounding vegetation. Deeper snow pack combined with late spring rains have shortened the fire season, and we have been lucky with a comparative lack of high winds so far this year.

But luck isn’t enough, and state agencies and localities are moving rapidly to build resilience and to prepare. Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-05-19 on January 9, 2019, which directed CAL FIRE, in consultation with other state agencies and departments, to recommend immediate, medium and long-term actions to help prevent destructive wildfires. CAL FIRE identified 35 priority fuels reduction projects across the state to be completed before the end of 2019, a map of which can be found here.

Evan Johnson’s Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery authored a final report that includes recommendations to revise existing utility liability provisions, establish a wildfire fund, and take action on cost recovery and wildfire insurance.

El Dorado County Supervisor Brian Veerkamp and a panel of forest management experts provided an overview of state and local wildfire abatement efforts.

The State of California is also in the process of pulling together a shared stewardship agreement with the federal government. CAL FIRE, the Governor’s Office, and U.S. Forest Service Region 5 officials are in talks to finalize this agreement, which will outline responsibilities of the state and the U.S. Forest Service. It will include everything from fuel break work to capacity-building and finding new uses for wood products. Workforce development and new strategies to elevate rural economies are deeply interwoven with this process.

Supervisor Veerkamp affirmed the need for homeowner education. In 2018, the State codified Public Resources Code 4291, which includes mandates for properties on forested or mountainous lands. Unfortunately, only a small minority of El Dorado County residents are aware of these laws. In line with PRC 4291, El Dorado County passed a mandatory vegetation management ordinance which crosses property lines – with vegetation required to be kept at a minimum of 100 feet from structures that will burn.

In August, the Governor announced Listos California, a new $50 Million statewide effort to build resiliency from the ground up in vulnerable communities at high risk for wildfires and other disasters, with Valley Vision serving as the support team.

John Melvin summed it up well – “the state has committed $200 Million toward wildfire preparation every year for the next five years. Can we continue to spend $200 Million annually to do this work?” In order to continue to treat overgrown forests at risk of wildfire and to ensure markets for the debris that is generated, commercialization becomes a priority and an avenue to real change. If we work together to find innovative solutions, perhaps we can make certain that this work gets done.

To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance livability in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our Vantage Point email newsletter!

Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Manager managing the Cleaner Air Partnership and Valley Vision’s online communications.

Fighting Fire with Innovative Partnerships

In 2019, wildfires continue to threaten our quality of life here in California. Annual wildfire-related deaths grew tenfold between 2016 and 2018. Toxic smoke from these fires threatens public health and economic activity. Fire suppression, past logging practices, and climate change have turned forests into vast thickets of tinder, ripe for the next devastating mega-fire. And the fires are getting worse.

It’s critical that decision-makers see and understand this problem – and potential solutions – firsthand. On June 28th, The Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), our region’s transportation and land use planning agency, hosted an excursion for regional elected officials and partner agencies to learn about wildfire and forest management projects across El Dorado County. The day-long tour was organized by David Shabazian, project lead for the Rural-Urban Connections Strategy (RUCS), and an important accompaniment to SACOG’s toolset for boosting rural economies and preserving natural lands.

El Dorado County Supervisor Brian Veerkamp, a fifth generation county resident and former fire chief, guided our tour bus past expansive thickets of brush on our way north from our launch point at Apple Hill past Coloma and Georgetown. Supervisor Veerkamp acknowledged that many residents use these small trees and underbrush to maintain privacy, but affirmed that the biomass “needs to be removed in order to protect us all.”

Our first stop was at the UC Berkeley-run Blodgett Forest Research Station, where Station Manager Dr. Robert York steered us through several sections of forest where researchers test controlled burning, vegetation management, and approaches to regrowth across nearly 4,400 acres. For over 50 years, research at Blodgett has been largely funded through the annual sale of timber harvested sustainably on its grounds. It is the only research site of its kind in California, and has produced over 400 publications on fire ecology, atmospheric chemistry, hydrology, and more.

The King Fire in 2014 scorched over 97,000 acres of El Dorado County forestland.

In 2014, the King Fire burned nearly 9% of the total area of El Dorado County. Our second stop on the tour was to a sobering viewpoint of the King Fire “burn scar” further along Wentworth Springs Road, where the soil is gray and blackened trees dot the landscape as far as the eye can see. Soil scientist Marie Davis explained the devastating after-effects that fires have on watersheds, like nutrient-rich topsoil getting washed into rivers, which slows recovery and clogs up dam infrastructure.

Our final stop was at Big Hill Lookout northwest of Kyburz, where we were treated to a view of SMUD’s Upper American River Project, which generates hydropower via an extensive series of lakes, dams, and powerhouses. The project generates 1.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year – 15% of Sacramento County’s total power demand.

There are other innovative forest management efforts right here in our region that serve as important models for replication or expansion. The French Meadows Project brings together the Placer County Water Agency, The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Nevada Conservancy, County of Placer, American River Conservancy, and UC Merced’s Sierra Nevada Research Institute to restore forests and protect water supply on 27,000 acres of mainly U.S. Forest Service-owned land in Placer County. The project, nested within the Sierra Nevada Conservancy’s Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative, is funded by a shared investment from the federal government through the Forest Service, state government through the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, and local sources like PCWA, the County of Placer, and private donors. French Meadows’ unique partnership and governance model is allowing the restoration project to advance rapidly to an implementation stage and serve as a model for accelerating ecologically-based forest management across the Sierra Nevada.

Big Hill Lookout near Kyburz was a great viewing place to see the network of lakes and dams that make up SMUD’s Upper American River Project.

Oregon-based Blue Forest Conservation has also introduced a unique partnership and financing model to fund a forest restoration pilot project in 15,000 acres across the North Yuba River watershed. Blue Forest and the World Resources Institute developed a Forest Resilience Bond powered by private capital, which funds the upfront costs of restoration while the Yuba Water Agency and others reimburse investors over time. The result of this financing model is a $4.6 Million project that can begin implementation rapidly with in-kind permitting and planning support from Tahoe National Forest personnel. Both the French Meadows and North Yuba River projects benefit from new collaborations between partners that haven’t historically worked together, unique and flexible financing models that allow for earlier implementation, and the latest scientific findings about treating forests in an ecological manner.

Thanks to David Shabazian for organizing the tour, as well as his team at SACOG who helped put the excursion together – Lynnea Ormiston, Christina Lokke, Rosie Ramos, Renée DeVere-Oki, Kacey Lizon, and CEO James Corless. Thanks also to the tour sponsors – Sierra Nevada Conservancy, SMUD, El Dorado Irrigation District, and Sierra Pacific Industries. To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance livability in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our Vantage Point email newsletter!

Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Manager overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership and Valley Vision’s online communications.

My First Cap-to-Cap: A Whirlwind 5 Days in D.C.

I’ve heard a lot about “Cap-to-Cap” from colleagues, friends, and others since moving to Sacramento nearly five years ago. I’ve heard that it’s a massive undertaking to secure funding and advance policy to improve our region. I’ve heard that it’s the best networking opportunity around. I’ve heard that it’s a rite of passage for Sacramento’s rising leaders. The reality is that it’s all of those things…and more.

The Metro Chamber’s annual “Capitol-to-Capitol” program is the premier opportunity for the Sacramento region to come together to inform federal investments and policy to benefit our communities. It’s been organized by the Metro Chamber every year since 1970. Next year happens to be the 50th Anniversary.

I served as one of four co-leaders of the Air Quality team (one of 11 issue-focused teams such as workforce development, food and agriculture, and more), which included 22 regional air pollution regulators, business leaders, environmental advocates, and elected officials. The Cleaner Air Partnership, the unique public-private coalition managed by Valley Vision in partnership with the Sacramento Metro Chamber and Breathe California Sacramento Region, has managed the Cap-to-Cap Air Quality team’s efforts since 2007 and helped us all make significant strides toward cleaner air. Our “asks” in 2019 were communicated through two comprehensive Issue Papers (on clean transportation and forest management/wildfire) which guided each of our appointments, and which can be accessed on the Valley Vision website.

The Cap-to-Cap Air Quality team had 20 advocacy appointments over 2.5 days

I am awed by the effort it must take to pull off Cap-to-Cap. The Metro Chamber staff scheduled hundreds of meetings beyond our team’s 20 advocacy appointments with federal elected officials, committee staff, and agency representatives. In the interest of giving Cap-to-Cap newbies and interested parties a glimpse of the day-to-day happenings of Cap-to-Cap, here’s an attempt to recap each day’s events as they unfolded. Here goes:

Saturday, May 4th: Saturday is the main departure date for most of the Cap-to-Cap participants. I had an early morning flight from Sacramento International Airport which must have had 100 Cap-to-Cappers on it! Flying to the East Coast is always strange because you lose hours of your day, but the Metro Chamber has a cleverly organized welcome reception that kicked off right as we arrived at the classy Mayflower Hotel from the Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. Festivities ensued and there was much discussion of our anticipated events and meetings. A few of us younger folks went to a nearby shindig at a bar courtesy of the Metro Chamber’s young professionals group, Metro EDGE, which was also a blast.

Sunday, May 5th: Remember how a few of us went out for drinks the previous night? On Sunday, we had an 8:30 AM meeting of the Cap-to-Cap Steering Committee, made up of Metro Chamber leadership and the co-leads of each team. An 8:30 AM Eastern start time is equivalent to 5:30 AM Pacific, so suffice it to say, it was definitely a coffee morning! There was a FOX40 crew onsite to cover the program, and Air Quality team co-lead Meg Arnold filmed a TV spot about our wildfire and forest management efforts in 2019. Much of my day was spent running errands to prep for the following three days of advocacy – including multiple FedEx trips – before taking an all-delegation photo inside the Mayflower’s hallways. In past years this photo has been taken on Capitol Mall, but rain was a factor. Cap-to-Cap Chair Mac Clemmens of Digital Deployment then hosted a Chair’s Reception on the rooftop of the beautiful 101 Constitution building, with epic views of the Capitol.

Monday, May 6th: The first day of meetings on Capitol Hill kicked off with a welcome breakfast and remarks from Cap-to-Cap leadership, Congressman Ami Bera, and a very special guest in Amy Walters, National Editor of The Cook Political Report. Amy delivered some incredibly savvy political analysis, including Election 2020 predictions, before our 22-member Air Quality team departed for our first meetings via the legendary Washington, D.C., Metro transit system (thanks SacRT for those Metro passes!). Over the course of the whirlwind day, our team held 30-minute meetings with Congressman Ami Bera and his staff; the House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests & Public Lands (Minority); the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change (Majority/Minority); the Office of Congressman Tom McClintock; Congressman John Garamendi; the Environmental Protection Agency – Office of Air and Radiation; the Office of Senator Ed Markey; and with Congresswoman Doris Matsui and her staff. Whew! From there, I booked it to the special Farm-to-Fork Live event at USDA, which was organized by Valley Vision and Honey Agency to elevate our region’s food and agriculture leadership at Cap-to-Cap. That evening, Woodland City Councilmember Tom Stallard led nearly 50 Cap-to-Cap delegates on a legendary 3.5 hour walking tour of Washington, D.C.’s monuments and war memorials. This tradition started at Cap-to-Cap 1996 when Tom and now-SMUD Board member Rob Kerth went on an evening stroll to talk through some confounding transportation funding issues, and ended up walking the entirety of the Mall past all of its various monuments. It has been a tradition ever since! I have to say the most powerful monuments to me are the Korean War Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, but all are spectacular, especially when lit up at night.

Woodland City Councilmember Tom Stallard’s nighttime monuments tour was truly outstanding

Tuesday, May 7th: Tuesday morning began with the Congressional Leadership Forum hosted by Congresswoman Doris Matsui. The keynote speaker was a true icon – Madeleine K. Albright, the first female Secretary of State under President Clinton. She was razor-sharp as she took on topics such as globalism, international trade, defense, and more and answered audience questions. From there, we departed for the Hill (again on public transit) for a series of impactful meetings with the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (Majority); the Office of Senator Kamala Harris; the Office of Congressman Doug LaMalfa; the Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein; the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests & Public Lands (Majority); and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry & Natural Resources. A highlight was in the hallway of the lively Dirksen Senate Office Building, where political nerds like me geek out. Senator Mitt Romney and company apparently walked right behind me as I was fumbling around with my smartphone, and less than 10 minutes later Senator Tim Kaine sped past me as he talked to reporters. It’s really cool to see these people in action, and I got a solid video of the brief encounter. After a long second day of meetings the team headed back to the Mayflower Hotel to get ready for the Delegation Gala, the classiest event of the program. By this time, my nicest suit was getting a workout! The gala itself was held at the International Spy Museum’s slick new location, which was not yet open to the public and had breathtaking views of D.C.’s utilitarian skyline. I would be remiss not to include the excellent video from Presenting Sponsor Western Health Advantage, with a nice cameo by Valley Vision CEO Bill Mueller toward the end. Eating, drinking, dancing, and chatting ensued and it was a great way to ‘cap’ the program.

Wednesday, May 8th: Wednesday at Cap-to-Cap is generally the short day for meetings on the Hill. Most folks fly home on this day, with a few staying in D.C. to do more exploring, visit friends and family, or hold additional meetings. Program Chair Mac Clemmens hosted a Cybersecurity Briefing in the morning with prominent defense experts as well as Congressman John Garamendi in his capacity as Chairman of the aptly-named ‘Readiness Subcommittee.’ A key takeaway – your smartphone is likely your least protected device, so you should do everything you can to secure it! The Air Quality team had meetings with the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions as well as the U.S. Forest Service Office of Legislative Affairs later in the morning. Both went very well and generated a great deal of follow-up activity, as with our other meetings. I had some precious downtime between our last meeting and my departure flight back to the West Coast, which was used for some much-needed email catch-up and honestly a nice nap.

Reflecting on the whirlwind five days I spent in D.C., I am thankful to Valley Vision for giving me this opportunity not just to attend Cap-to-Cap, but to co-lead a high-performing team in my first year participating. It is experiences like these – connecting with new people, navigating a new geography, and being faced with entirely new situations that fosters personal growth and self-awareness.

The Mayflower Hotel’s downstairs bar was the scene of much late-night planning and networking

2019 Cap-to-Cap Chair Mac Clemmens did an outstanding job and set the stage for 2020 Co-Chairs Kierstan DeLong and Brian King to be successful in leading the program’s 50th Anniversary, with Sutter Health leading the sponsorship charge. I’d also like to thank Michael Faust, Susan Harris-Brazelton, and the amazing Metro Chamber staff who put in so much work to ensure a successful program – CEO Amanda Blackwood, Khaim Morton, John Jacobs, Andrea Ellinghouse, and particularly Chloe Park for scheduling meetings across all of the teams. You guys rock! If you’re interested in attending next year, I hope to see you there!

To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance livability in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our Vantage Point email newsletter!

Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Manager overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership and Valley Vision’s online communications.

South Sacramento Prioritized for Cap & Trade Investment

At the end of September 2018, the California Air Resources Board unanimously approved South Sacramento-Florin as one of 10 communities statewide for air quality monitoring, positioning us favorably for clean transportation investments to mitigate pollution!

The Sacramento region’s Cleaner Air Partnership has been building momentum for this decision since January by holding over 50 in-person meetings with elected officials and decision-makers in the Capitol and at CARB, and organizing with local air quality advocates and community leaders. Now, the Sac Metro Air District will work with the community to develop an effective emissions reduction program.

We encourage you to read both the CARB Press Release and the Sac Metro Air District Press Release for additional info. View the video of the September 27th session to see the Cleaner Air Partnership’s all-star delegation in action!

“We are extremely pleased CARB selected a Sacramento community to be a first-round priority when implementing the monitoring component and community engagement requirements of AB 617. Through this additional monitoring we will be able to more accurately assess how air pollution affects our most disadvantaged communities,” said Sacramento City Councilmember Larry Carr, who represents parts of the selected area. “This new information will set the stage for what I hope will be new measures by the Sac Metro Air District to reduce emissions including investments in the community for cleaner cars and trucks.”

The Sac Metro Air District is currently seeking South Sacramento-Florin residents, businesses and others to serve on an Air Quality Steering Committee to help create a Community Air Monitoring Plan. The Air District is accepting applications through November 9th, and hosting a community meeting on Thursday, November 1st at the Southgate Library. More information is available on the Air District’s Community Air Protection Program web page.

For questions about getting involved in the Cleaner Air Partnership, please email Adrian Rehn or call (916) 325-1630.

Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Manager overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership and Valley Vision’s online communications.

Tesla Model S Makes Meg’s Week

In mid-May I had a birthday. Birthdays aren’t usually something I get all that public about, because it can seem really self-centered, and so I’ve certainly never written a blog about a birthday before. But here’s one! Although it’s not mainly about the birthday itself. It’s mostly about what happened as a result of my birthday: I got to drive a Tesla Model S for an entire week!

If you know me well, you probably know that I have coveted Teslas for years, well before I got to lead Valley Vision’s work in the Clean Economy and was able to get involved with the region’s Plug-in Electric Vehicle (PEV) Collaborative. So this birthday gift (from an inspired husband and some teenage co-conspirators) was superlative.

I’d driven a Tesla once, briefly, almost exactly four years earlier, in a ride-and-drive event in Napa. But this was an entire week. So, what did I take away from the experience?

  • It accelerates like a bat out of hell. For someone (me) who was trained as a driver in the assertive New Jersey style of driving, this is a dream come true. The acceleration will truly snap your head back if you want it to. (I demo’d that for CEO Bill Mueller one day; he liked it too!)
  • Auto-pilot is really remarkable, and a harbinger of the autonomous future to come. And it performed exceptionally. I used auto-pilot on surface roads in Davis and Sacramento, on our freeways, on the merge onto the Causeway in rush hour, in the rain (yes, rain), in heavy and variable traffic, and on highway 49 up to Grass Valley one day, as the road transitioned from undivided four-lane to a twistier and hillier two-lane.
  • Auto-pilot can even change lanes on the freeway, which was freaky when I discovered it by accident. I turned on my signal for a lane-change before disengaging auto-pilot as I thought was necessary. Feeling the car begin to change lanes on its own was a little more exciting than I was ready for! But after that first surprise, it was just amazing.
  • It will charge when plugged directly into house power overnight. But it will not charge quickly! We’d gain 30-40 miles in a ~10 hour overnight period. If I ever own a Tesla, of course we’ll install the special home chargers to get close to full overnight recharging.
  • Tesla Superchargers are good. And easy. And free. There’s one in Natomas, which I frequented, and also one in Rocklin that I used on the day I went to Grass Valley.
  • “Range anxiety” is a thing, even with a convenient Supercharger. I usually drive a Prius, with 500+ miles between fueling. The Model S would charge to a 200 mile range, but if one drives or accelerates assertively (ahem), that compromises your total range. I’m sure if I owned the car, I’d get accustomed to driving it closer to “empty,” but the relative scarcity of Superchargers and the slowness of charging on a regular outlet made me conservative and a little twitchy whenever my range fell below 75 miles.
  • If you’d like this same experience for yourself, there’s an app for that, of course. It’s called Turo, and it’s just exactly like Airbnb, except with cars rather than homes. We regretfully returned our lovely Tesla to the home of its owner, in the Pocket, on a Saturday morning.
  • There are more of them out there than even I’d noticed. One afternoon I left the parking garage behind the library in downtown Sacramento, and waited at a light to turn left, with one black Tesla Model S behind me, and a second one in the lane to my right. We were like a little Tesla flock.
  • I’m not the only one who stares (and sometimes points) as a Tesla goes by.

Having meetings in Sacramento, Davis, Grass Valley and places in between, I drive significantly more than some. The Tesla enabled me to do that driving with a clearer personal conscience and in tight alignment with my professional life at Valley Vision – including the Cleaner Air Partnership, focused on air quality and transportation emissions, and the Capital Region Climate Readiness Collaborative, focused on climate and impacts. Keep up with Valley Vision’s leadership in these areas by subscribing to our monthly Cleaner Air News email newsletter!

Meg Arnold is Managing Director of Valley Vision, leading the Clean Economy and Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategies.

Building Business Resiliency in Wildfire-Risk Communities

Business resiliency is of vital importance to businesses themselves, and to the communities of which they’re a part. Recognizing that, Valley Vision and partner Sierra Business Council recently brought business resiliency workshops to small businesses in two rural communities in the Sierra Nevada, Sonora and Grass Valley. The workshops, funded by a grant from PG&E, are designed to inform and motivate small business owners and leaders to put plans in place for their businesses in the event of wildfire (or other) disasters.

The workshops are based on Valley Vision’s existing Business Resiliency Toolkit, which provides an easy-to-use, step-wise process way for small businesses develop their own business resiliency plan. Throughout, the Toolkit directs business owner/operators to respected existing resources, such as Kaiser’s Hazard Vulnerability Assessment tool, to most effectively get their disaster planning work done.

The resilience of small businesses is increasingly important to communities for several interconnected reasons:

  • First, thirty-years of national data show that natural disasters are increasing in frequency, severity, damage, and unpredictability. And as we saw all too clearly with events in late 2017, the drought and pest damage to our wildlands is resulting in wildfires of greater intensity and ferocity than ever before.
  • Next, research consistently shows that small businesses are the least prepared for, and the least able to recover from, disasters that strike, whether community-based, like a wildfire, or localized, like a building fire. After an event that causes small businesses to close unexpectedly for five days, 40-60% never reopen.
  • Additionally, small businesses contribute the majority of employment and wages in communities across the country. Particularly in more self-contained rural towns, the small business community is the backbone of local economies – so broad-based small business closures can have significant and long-lasting impacts to the economic health of those communities.

For these reasons, and others, Valley Vision and Sierra Business Council teamed up with local chambers of commerce, and PG&E’s financial support, to bring the Disaster-Proof Your Business Workshop to Sonora and Grass Valley.

In a half-day format, small business owner/operators learned from experts about the five steps of the Business Resiliency Toolkit.

  1. Understand Your Risks and Your Environment
  2. Assess Your Readiness
  3. Take Action
  4. Test and Update Your Plan
  5. Engage with Community Resiliency Efforts

Because the Toolkit is designed to help businesses prepare for a disaster of any type, Valley Vision and Sierra Business Council also developed wildfire-specific recommended actions.

For more information about the Toolkit or the Disaster-Proof Your Business workshop, please contact us!

Meg Arnold is Managing Director of Valley Vision, leading the Clean Economy and Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategies.

Valley Vision Takes the #MyCleanAirPledge

At Valley Vision, we recognize the importance of clean air to the communities we serve.

Air pollution is everyone’s problem – from low-income neighborhoods burdened by diesel truck emissions to homesteads in the rural Sierra foothills, which face dangerous woodsmoke and wildfire risk. According to the American Lung Association, the Sacramento MSA in 2018 has the #5 worst ozone pollution (“smog”) and #19 worst short-term particle pollution (soot, smoke, and exhaust) in the country. Further, the region does not meet federal and state clean air standards, risking harm to our economy and the potential loss of millions of dollars in transportation funds. We also risk harming our environment, our health and our wellbeing.

This is why seven Valley Vision team members joined Breathe California Sacramento Region, each taking an individual #MyCleanAirPledge during the month of May. Below are their thoughts on the successes, challenges, and lessons learned in following their respective clean air commitments:

  • Valley Vision Managing Director Meg Arnold will encourage the Cap-to-Cap 2018 Air Quality team to use bikeshare in DC! #MyCleanAirPledge

“#MyCleanAirPledge benefited from the very willing members of the Air Quality team at Cap-to-Cap. In fact, I didn’t really have to do any “encouraging,” as I had committed to. As of the very first day we were in DC, we were on bikes for the almost-three-mile ride from Union Station back to the Mayflower Hotel at the end of the day’s meetings at the Capitol. We enjoyed a variety of DC’s well-thought-out bikes lanes, team co-captain John Lane’s knowledgeable history of DC bikeshare’s success and fast growth — and also DC’s unseasonably chilly, cloudy, and windy weather that day. Bike sharing continued through the rest of the trip — even including a meeting at EPA that John had to miss, because he was babysitting the group’s bikes, which we’d been unable to dock and return due to the docks all being full! Thanks to my Air Quality team-mates who made #MyAirQualityPledge really easy to succeed at!”

  • Valley Vision Communications Intern Ruben Moody will bring his reusable bags with him when grocery shopping! #MyCleanAirPledge

“Keeping myself accountable for bringing reusable grocery bags has been a great exercise in remembering commitments and taking steps to reduce waste. The first time I went shopping in May I did not bring my bags, but since then I have brought my large bags each time! Because I go to a smaller grocery store, the cashiers have taken notice of me getting better about bringing my reusable bags. I look forward to keeping my pledge going after Clean Air Month wraps up!”

  • Valley Vision Project Manager Adrian Rehn takes the #MyCleanAirPledge to commute to work via bicycle at least 2x per week during the month of May! #MyCleanAirPledge

“I’ll admit it – I have a history of getting a little lazy each Winter when it comes to biking to work and to meetings. This transgression is compounded by the fact that I reside a mere mile and a half from Valley Vision’s Broadway offices. May turned out to be a great month to break my bad habit, as Sacramento’s mythical “Spring” actually lasted more than 3 days, resulting in minimal rain and moderate temperatures – perfect for biking. I have now completed my pledge and even gone further – playing around with those new JUMP Bikes about half a dozen times. I will continue to keep the bike riding momentum going as best I can. See you out there!”

  • Valley Vision Executive Assistant Chloe Pan will force her parents to go to Refill Madness with her this month! #MyCleanAirPledge

“I became more aware of my carbon footprint and how much waste we produce when I was going to school in Santa Barbara. However, I moved back to Placer County after graduation and was tossed back into my parents’ lifestyle – where you don’t think twice about buying chemical drain cleaners, having meat in every meal, or throwing recyclables together with the trash (“They sort it out, sweetie!”). The opportunity to make a Clean Air Pledge gave me the push I needed to introduce my parents to Refill Madness. I can’t say that they were convinced to change their way of life, but it was nice to show them that there truly are concrete, practical, convenient ways of making a difference in our local community.”

  • Valley Vision’s Director of Strategy and Evaluation Evan Schmidt will carpool at least once per week during the month of May! #MyCleanAirPledge

“I’ve kept up my clean air pledge to carpool once a week by carpooling every Monday with Linda Cloud, a friend and neighbor who works at Local Government Commission in downtown Sacramento. Carpooling every Monday has been a great way to connect with a friend every week in addition to reducing air pollution. Also, I drive my electric Leaf (all the time) and so get even more benefit when I’m able to drive with someone else.”

Valley Vision’s Thousand Strong Intern Anessa Chacon and Project Leader Tammy Cronin also took the #MyCleanAirPledge. Anessa committed to reducing pollution in the air by walking to work and Tammy rode the Big Blue Bus (aka El Dorado Transit) to work instead of driving!

Valley Vision, Breathe California Sacramento Region, and the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce anchor the Cleaner Air Partnership, a diverse coalition of business leaders, environmental advocates, regulators, and others who have been helping the Sacramento region protect public health and promote economic growth for 30 years. Keep up with this important work by subscribing to our monthly ‘Cleaner Air News’ email newsletter, or by contacting Project Manager Adrian Rehn at (916) 325-1630 or emailing

Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Manager overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership and Valley Vision’s online communications.

Cleaner Air Partnership Tracking EPA’s Moves on Vehicle Emissions

The Sacramento region’s longstanding Cleaner Air Partnership, anchored by Valley Vision, Breathe California Sacramento Region, and the Sacramento Metro Chamber, has been keeping an eye on the Trump Administration’s moves to potentially roll back vehicle emissions standards.

Sources claim that the U.S. Department of Transportation has drafted a proposal to freeze vehicle requirements at 2020 levels through 2026, pulling the plug on progressive emissions requirements put in place by the Obama Administration, and adopted by California leaders. In a region heavily impacted by vehicular, or “mobile source” pollutants, this could deal immense damage to public health and economic vitality in communities across the 7-County Sacramento region.

Alberto Ayala, Executive Director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District (SMAQMD), penned an Op-Ed in the Sacramento Bee on this very subject last month, when it became apparent that the EPA was seriously considering these changes. “Rolling back the standards ignores reality – cleaner, more efficient cars are already abundant on our roads — and wastes large investments by automakers. Beyond innovations to gasoline engines, electric vehicles are improving battery life and charging times. And hydrogen fuel cell cars are coming up fast right behind. These advances are reflected in growing sales in California and other leading markets. Electric cars are the superior, no-compromise, and cheat-proof alternative to combustion.”

Erik White, Air Pollution Control Officer for the County of Placer, echoed these concerns. “Cooperative federalism does not abdicate EPA from its responsibilities to protect public health and address climate change. The federal government cannot selectively choose when it wants to support state’s rights and take when it wants to abrogate them. EPA must stay the course on the technologically feasible light duty standards already on the books such that it supports American leadership on automotive standards and the right of California to enact its own standards when necessary.”

These and other experts at the Cleaner Air Partnership will keep you apprised of this conversation as it develops. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to Valley Vision’s Clean Economy newsletter, share this piece through your networks, or email me if you want to be involved in clean air efforts (or know someone who does). Join us! Together we can ensure a more healthy, prosperous, and equitable Sacramento region.

Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Manager overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership and Valley Vision’s online communications.

Air Quality Team Makes Moves at Cap-to-Cap

As usual, the Metro Chamber’s annual Capitol-to-Capitol program was jam-packed, tightly-scheduled, well-run – and very large. This year’s delegation numbered 375, including the business community, local electeds, nonprofit leadership, and representatives from our academic institutions.

The Air Quality team’s seventeen members took an equal number of meetings in two-and-a-half days, with plenty of bike-share commuting as well, despite this being one of the chilliest and rainiest Cap-to-Caps in memory.  The four issue papers we “carried” (on federal funding, forest resilience, biomass, and broadband access) were well-received by the majority of our regional Congressional delegation, as well as by Senators Feinstein and Harris.

More challenging was our conversation with the Environmental Protection Agency, which focused significantly on vehicle emissions standards and the importance of not weakening the Clean Air Act, given all the benefits it has brought to the nation since its inception. Administration appointees debated with us the significance of vehicle emissions and particularly the issue of California continuing its higher standards.

Our discussion with the Majority staffer for the Senate’s Committee on the Environment and Public Works featured a slightly broader range of topics, with two pieces of welcome news and one piece of less ideal, though unsurprising, news. We learned that cuts to EPA’s budget are “not a high priority for many in Congress; that’s more the Administration,” and also that the Committee’s Republican Chair and Democratic Ranking Member are jointly sponsoring a bill that would fund the Diesel Emissions Reductions Act (DERA) at its statutory maximum of $100M. The not-surprising topic was that of CAFÉ  standards (vehicle emissions standards), where our team’s strong points in support were acknowledged but met with a “we’ll have to agree to disagree” response.

As one final note, we were fortunate to benefit from two strong “freshmen” members of the team, who each set a high bar. Alberto Ayala of the Sacramento Metro Air Quality Management District was an able leader of “sub-team Ayala,” while Breathe Board member Paul Adams of Capital Public Radio arranged a special side-tour of the NPR headquarters for Cap-to-Cap attendees.

All in all, it was a successful Cap-to-Cap and the Air Quality team enjoyed a fun and impactful time in D.C. We are all looking forward to next year!

To keep up on the latest Valley Vision and Cleaner Air Partnership news, our research findings and analyses, and personal commentary and thoughts by those on the staff team, sign up for our Cleaner Air News and Vantage Point email newsletters!

Meg Arnold is Managing Director of Valley Vision, leading the Clean Economy and Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategies.

Standing up for Cleaner Air in Our Communities

For over 30 years, the Cleaner Air Partnership has brought environmental advocates, business leaders, and decision-makers together to fight for cleaner air and job growth across the Sacramento region. Investing in clean air improves public health, grows and attracts businesses, and is simply the right thing to do.

The work of ‘CAP’ has been an immense boon to our communities for a long time. But the time has come to do more.

The Sacramento region has 5-7% of California’s population. It also has 5-7% of the state’s population who live in disadvantaged communities, as designated by the state’s CalEnviroScreen 3.0 mapping tool. But in key programs like the statewide Cap & Trade system, which reinvests money charged to polluters into a variety of state agencies and projects, our region is not getting its fair share. As a whole, our region only receives 1-2% of air quality-related Cap & Trade funds, while Southern California, the San Joaquin Valley, and the Bay Area in particular receive many times more funding to do this work. This is about more than money – it’s about the ability of our low-income neighbors to live healthy and full lives. It’s about making our communities more livable for everyone. It’s about our region’s future.

The Cleaner Air Partnership coalition, led by Breathe California Sacramento Region, the Sacramento Metro Chamber, and Valley Vision, is a catalyst for the vision of the future that I just described.

As an example, the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District has identified over $365 Million worth of shovel-ready projects in Sacramento County alone, much of which could be funded if our region were to receive proportionate Cap & Trade funding. Potential projects include electric bus conversionselectric vehicle charging infrastructurecleaner locomotiveslow-emission agricultural equipment, and more. The region’s other four Air Quality Management Districts (AQMDs) have similarly identified numerous shovel-ready projects in need of funding.

Through the leadership of Sacramento County Supervisor and CA Air Resources Board representative Phil Serna, CAP has been meeting with our region’s state-level elected officials and advisors, further building its coalition to include leaders skilled at navigating state legislation, the budget process, and the inner workings of California government. Our recent trips to the State Capitol to educate and inform leaders about how the state allocates Cap & Trade money have proven quite fruitful, as our region’s leaders at all levels are ready to do what it takes to modify the system. Addressing the Cap & Trade conundrum is a tangible first step in this new area of activity for CAP; as we become more connected and knowledgeable, we could engage with state representatives and agencies in all sorts of ways to the benefit of our communities.

Consider this a call to action. Over the next four weeks, the Cleaner Air Partnership will host three working sessions to build out a ‘Cap & Trade Playbook’ – a comprehensive plan to secure a balanced share of Cap & Trade funds for important air quality-related projects in the Capital region. We will be having additional meetings, beginning in May, with our elected representatives to share the Playbook with them and begin to implement our new strategy.

As the new Project Manager for the Cleaner Air Partnership beginning in January 2018, I’ve been tasked with continuing to build upon the strong foundation set by fellow VV’ers Tammy Cronin and Tara Thronson before her, their clean air colleagues, and surely others beyond my memory. I’m also responsible, under the supervision of Managing Director Meg Arnold (Valley Vision’s Clean Economy guru), for ensuring that this stepped-up level of activity leads to success. It’s a tough assignment, but achievable with the right partners, good data, and the wind at our backs.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to Valley Vision’s Clean Economy newsletter, share this piece through your networks, or email me if you want to be involved in these efforts (or know someone who does). Join us! Together we can ensure a more healthy, prosperous, and equitable Sacramento region.

Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Manager overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership and Valley Vision’s online communications.