(CN) – A day after California declared legal war on the Environmental Protection Agency, the embattled federal agency announced it would send money to the Golden State to help it fight some of the worst air quality problems in the nation.
The EPA said Wednesday it will disburse $12.75 million in federal grant money to the air pollution control districts in California aimed at switching out inefficient gasoline or diesel-fueled vehicles with more contemporary and cleaner burning versions.
The grant is part of a larger $30 million grant dispersal program that will send money to various districts on the West Coast that are out of compliance with air pollution standards.
“These grants will enable states and local agencies to improve air quality in areas most affected by air pollution,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a written statement. “EPA is committed to supporting clean air projects that will reduce air pollution in nonattainment areas and enhance public health.”
The timing of the announcement is curious, given that the state of California sued the EPA Tuesday, accusing it of acting arbitrarily in reversing agency policy regarding tougher emissions standards for U.S. automakers.
California Gov. Jerry Brown lambasted Pruitt and President Donald Trump for engaging in economic nostalgia that prevents America from competing with a rapidly evolving approach to transportation and energy development — one that Brown says will not include an inefficient combustion engine.
But officials in the San Joaquin Valley, the southern part of California’s agriculturally oriented Central Valley, acknowledge the grant will help allay some of the most severe air quality problems in the country.
“Despite significant efforts, the South Coast and San Joaquin air basins still experience some of the worst air quality in the nation,” said Alexis Strauss of the EPA.
The EPA will give the San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District $6.3 million to help the area’s agricultural industry switch out semi-trucks, tractors and other diesel-generated equipment — including 144 semi-trucks and 237 older tractors.
The World Health Organization identified the San Joaquin Valley— a sun-baked stretch of mostly rural areas that also includes cities like Fresno, Merced and Bakersfield — as home to the worst air quality in the United States in its global report released in 2016.
The area is home to some of the state’s highest asthma rates, cancer rates and other health problems related to the air quality issues. Officials have long identified tractors, plows, harvesters and other gasoline and diesel-fueled agricultural vehicles as one of the principal culprits.
The emissions from these vehicles are exacerbated by the Sierra Nevada Mountain range that rises steeply to the east, keeping much of the pollution in the valley, coupled with predominantly stagnant weather patterns with little wind.
Officials are hopeful that switching out some of the older inefficient farming equipment for the next generation models will help alleviate pollution and the attendant health problems.
“This grant from EPA will help us with our enormous challenge to reduce emissions from mobile sources, which make up 85% of the pollution in the San Joaquin Valley,” said SJVAPCD Executive Director Seyed Sadredin.
Southern California received two grants as part of the overall program.
The EPA gave $6.5 million to the South Coast Air Quality Management District to replace 29 gasoline-fueled shuttles that serve airports in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.
The air quality district will also use the funds to switch out a 79-bus fleet serving the Los Angeles Unified School District, resulting in an emissions reduction of 98 percent, according to the EPA.