The Inland Empire’s quest for an environmentally sustainable future.
This year’s earth day focus is Trees for the Earth. Over the next five years the Earth Day Network is leading a movement to plant 7.8 billion trees starting now.
Why trees you ask? How will planting trees help residents of the Inland Empire? The answer is that trees play a pivotal role in the world’s efforts to combat climate change. They absorb excess and harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. Climate experts claim that in a single year, one acre of mature trees absorbs the same amount of CO2 produced by driving the average car 26,000 miles.
Trees absorb odors and pollutant gases like nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone. They also filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark.
The Inland Empire suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation. This year’s Earth Day focus on trees is going to be a remarkable investment in future battles to clean the air. In the interim, the 2015 American Lung Association’s Air Quality Report showed cities in the Inland Empire remain on the top of the list for ozone pollution. The report served to reinforce the significance of local and state clean air laws as well as the value of current initiatives aimed at reducing diesel emissions and promoting cleaner vehicles to protect public health.
While people all over the state, country and world are at risk due to unhealthy air, many Inland Empire communities face an enhanced risk as a result of their proximity to areas where there is greater exposure to freeways, rail yards, freight corridors and myriad other sources of pollution. In addition, there is very little debate that lower income communities and communities of color are most often disproportionately impacted.
Cognizant of the burden of poor air quality borne by the Inland Region two of the area’s largest utilities are working to help mitigate these concerns.
This week in exclusive interviews with The Voice, representatives from Southern California Gas Company and Southern California Edison shared their companies’ commitments to positively impact this issue.
“We care because we are a part of the Inland Empire communities. We have over 2,200 SoCalGas employees working here and are one of the largest employers in the Inland Empire.” He continued, “Our families live here and our children grow up and go to school in the Inland Empire.”
SoCalGas delivers clean, reliable and affordable natural gas to our customers in Inland communities, Mendoza explained and added “SoCalGas is the largest natural gas distribution utility in the United States and we have served Southern California for more than 140 years”
Mendoza clearly defined the region’s air quality problem. “More than 80 percent of the region’s NOx emissions or air pollution comes from the transportation sector. This sector also contributes more than 37 percent of the region’s total Green House Gas (GHG) emissions—the emissions that lead to climate change.”
Also according to Mendoza, the largest portion of emissions in this sector come from commercial applications—big rig trucks, cargo ships and railways. “If we want to make a dent in emissions, this means we have to reduce emissions without crippling commerce or our economy.”
The gas company’s concerns mirror those of the American Lung Association particularly in regards to the impact of poor air quality on human health. People breathe air polluted with particles from these emissions and suffer a high incidence of asthma and respiratory illnesses. Children living near these corridors suffer higher than usual rates of hospitalization for asthma and other health problems. Many of Southern California’s poorest and most vulnerable communities are near freeways and transportation corridors that continually emit diesel exhaust into the air. According to the California Department of Public Health, the financial costs of asthma hospitalizations are enormous — over $1 billion in 2010.
SoCal Gas believes it is most appropriate to start with the state’s biggest polluters.”Our state has limited resources—and we’re working against a ticking clock,” Mendoza said. “Heavy-duty trucks are by far the biggest contributors to poor air quality in the South Coast Region, which includes the Inland Empire.”
These are long-haul and regional truckers who rely on diesel because of fuel economy advantages over gasoline—it is usually 25-30 percent better with diesel. “That means long-haul truckers can ride farther on a tank of diesel for less money than with gasoline,” Mendoza added.
The problem with this, he explained, is that a gallon of diesel emits over 29 pounds of carbon dioxide and a long haul truck may travel 500 miles or more every day. “That’s more than 2,250 lbs—over a ton!—of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere every day from every heavy-duty diesel truck on the road.”
Mendoza compared this to compressed natural gas, which has a higher ratio of energy-to-carbon and delivers more energy while producing less carbon emissions. “A natural gas-powered truck traveling the same distance produces 23 percent less carbon dioxide than the diesel truck. With every natural gas truck adopted, we can stop over 500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.” Natural gas is also less expensive; as a result, trucking fleets can get the environmental benefits of natural gas and save money over the long-term because natural gas is more affordable.
To this end, SoCalGas opened a new, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) station in Murrieta to provide clean alternative fuel for western Riverside County.
“At SoCalGas sustainability and being a responsible environmental steward is a fundamental part of doing business,” Mendoza said and concluded, “We have a long-standing commitment to leading by example, implementing sustainable practices in our operations and influencing good practices for our customers and community.”
Southern California Edison is also committed to making a difference. According to Paul Griffo, Project Manager, Media Relations, Southern California Edison (Edison), his company is committed to protecting the environment even as it works to deliver reliable and affordable power.
Over the years, Edison has engaged millions of California residents, including many in the Inland Empire, in conserving electricity through energy efficiency programs. These efforts have resulted in lower emissions and improved air quality. As a matter of fact, Edison leads the nation in energy efficiency.
One of the company’s local environmental initiatives is its Mountainview natural-gas fired generation facility in Redlands. It helps protect water quality with an advanced, environmentally friendly and efficient cooling system. It draws water from a mix of sources including reclaimed municipal water and contaminated groundwater. By treating it onsite for re-use, and recovering 75 to 80 percent of the water that would normally be discarded, Edison is boosting efficiency. The Mountainview facility is considered a critical generating source in this power-short region of the country.
Griffo also shared SCE recently received approval from the California Public Utilities Commission to implement its Charge Ready pilot program. “It will add as many as 1,500 electric vehicle charging stations within our service territory, The program will help move California closer to its objective of putting 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025, which will in turn support the state’s goal to reduce greenhouse gases and meet deadlines for federal clean air standards.”
From helping residents go solar at home, to expanding infrastructure so it can deliver more renewable wind and solar power, Edison continues to demonstrate its commitment to a cleaner energy future for the Inland Empire and all of California.
Earth Day provides a great opportunity to stop and reflect on the environment; what’s at risk; and what is being done by governments, corporations and environmental groups to help build a sustainable future. It is also an excellent time for individuals to reflect on their personal commitment to make a difference on this issue. As the great American philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote, “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” Let’s all do our part to heal the earth.
To learn more about the 2016 Earth Day initiative visit www.earthday.org/earth-day/earth-day-theme/.