Humboldt’s economic loses result in cleaner air

The relationship between reduced industrial activity and improved air quality was explored at the county’s latest General Plan Update hearing.

The Board of Supervisors finished its review of the update’s Air Quality Element at the May 6 hearing and approved a series of policies on reduction of greenhouse gas and other emissions.

A Greenhouse Climate Action Plan has been developed in response to a state law that requires counties to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from the levels projected for 2020.

During a public comment period, Bayside resident Karen Brooks questioned how applicable that is to Humboldt, which has lost pulp mills, sawmills and power generation plants over the years.

Supervisor Rex Bohn agreed, saying that not only have greenhouse gas emissions been reduced, but less timber trucking has also driven down levels of the county’s most worrisome pollutant, PM-10, the particulate matter that becomes airborne when dust is kicked up from construction sites and roads.

County Planner Michael Richardson said overall air quality has indeed improved. “The county is in a lot better shape than other jurisdictions because, ironically, we’ve lost so much of the big power plants and the big energy consumers and so our greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced and that’s correlated with those closures,” he continued.

But at the same time Richardson warned about making such correlations. He said that they aren’t absolute because pollutants are “all unique and they have unique sources.”

“The pulp mill had over 500 vehicle traffics a day – just the pulp mill alone,” said Bohn, referring to the former Evergreen Pulp Mill at Samoa. “Same thing with the saw mills and everything else, the vehicle traffic has dropped drastically and so have your PM-10 levels.”

He added that county’s timber yield is half of what it was a decade ago. “We have to notice that,” said Bohn.

Richardson agreed, and said the Climate Action Plan shows that the county is in “a good position” to meet state emission requirements “because we’ve been impacted economically the way we have been.”

Earlier, Rick Martin of the North Coast Air Quality Management District described the impacts and preventative measures of another air quality threat – smoke from large wildfires.

The fires are most common in areas of Southern Humboldt and Martin said the drastic wildfires of 2008 produced more carbon monoxide emissions in a three- to four-month span than the entire Los Angeles area does in a year.

“They are very high polluting natural events,” he continued. He added that to address them, an effective measure is to clear brush and other flammable debris from forest floors.

Reduction of air quality impacts from wildfires is one of the element’s goals. Supervisors also endorsed policies on reducing the length and frequency of vehicle trips, limiting the air quality impacts of government operations and encouraging accommodation of electric vehicles.

The board also began its review of the update’s Safety Element and will continue it at the next hearing, on May 20.