By Veronica Tovar

There is no doubt that these are incredibly challenging times. Our society, our families and our souls are being challenged and stretched to their limit. We are all standing in shifting sands, looking for a rock to which we can anchor ourselves.

And, we – as faith leaders – have hope.

We are finally seeing movement on some of the big issues facing our society. For Stockton, one of those issues is dangerous air pollution that makes us more vulnerable to lung diseases like COVID-19.

Initial research has linked higher levels of air pollution – like the particulate pollution spewed from diesel trucks, ships and other freight equipment – to an increased risk of death for those exposed to the virus.

And our community is especially vulnerable. The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2020 report highlights what we can already feel in our lungs. San Joaquin County was – once again – ranked among the most polluted counties in the United States, coming in the top ten for both annual levels of this dangerous particulate pollution and the number of days when particles spike to unhealthy levels.

We cannot fix our air pollution problem without halting the burning of dirty, diesel fuel.

Thankfully, solutions are on the horizon. Just last month, the California Air Resource Board voted to approve the nation’s first electric truck standard, which will ensure manufacturers invest in and build zero emissions trucks. By unanimously passing this transformative standard, our clean air regulators took an important step towards addressing deadly diesel pollution —but to deliver the significant air quality relief our communities so desperately need, regulators will need to go further.

Later this summer, the board will vote on a rule that would clean-up emissions from ships at port – if the California Air Resource Board votes “YES,” then we’ll finally see action on the pollution stemming from the Port of Stockton.

We’ve all experienced the pollution from highway 99 and I-5 with trucks taking goods from the Port of Stockton to distribution warehouses and other major diesel hotspots across the state. In fact, people living in the Boggs Tract Community near the Port of Stockton and the I-5 experience more diesel exhaust than 74 percent of other neighborhoods in the state and an asthma rate higher than 98 percent of the state.

The pollution is so bad that our city is one of only a few California communities to be targeted with funding for increased air quality monitoring and clean air programs under California’s “AB 617” Community Air Protection Program.

The Catholic Charities Environmental Justice Program is working closely with the air district to implement these local clean air programs. Stockton’s AB 617 Program is connecting residents living in the most polluted areas in the city with businesses, the Port of Stockton, state and local government, San Joaquin County of Public Health, and schools to develop clean air measures that they’d like to see in their communities.

This work is significant. And it feels like we are finally getting the investment and attention we need to support healthier families. But, to really make a difference in the quality of the air we breathe day-in and day-out, we need strong, statewide diesel pollution policies that build on our local efforts.

The sands are shifting. We have faith that our state leaders will vote to put our community’s health on more solid ground.

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