by Ali Ong Lee
Here on the north coast, winter storms have roiled tributaries but have cleared the air. We have been waking-up to the new Biden-Harris Administration clearing the way to renewed environmental protection—such as having the United States rejoin the Paris Accord aimed at reducing and eliminating greenhouse-gas emissions to slow down climate change and sea-level rise.
On January 25, 2021, in “What Biden’s presidency means for California’s Environment,” CalMatters.org reported: “California has the nation’s worst air quality, so this issue is arguably one of the most pressing environmental problems facing the state.” Additionally, respiratory issues associated with vulnerability to COVID-19, as a symptom of the virus and as a lasting health issue for COVID survivors, heightens the importance of prioritizing clean air policies and actions for public health. Hence, this article for EcoNews’ local governance series highlights another obscure agency—charged by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and State of California—with protecting the environment: the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District (NCUAQMD).
NORTH COAST UNIFIED AIR QUALITY MANAGEMENT DISTRICT
In California, there are 35 air quality districts tasked with air quality planning, monitoring, regulation, and education. Locally, the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District (NCUAQMD) is the regional agency responsible for Humboldt, Del Norte, and Trinity counties. Its website (www.ncuaqmd.org) “District Information” page states that NCUAQMD’s “primary responsibility [is to control] air pollution from stationary sources,” by enforcing federal, state, and county policies. Examples of stationary sources are dry cleaners, auto body shops, and biomass (biofuel) plants. More familiar stationary sources are domestic burn piles, and asbestos found when buildings are remodeled, construction sites are graded, or when quarries and mines release particulates through their operation. Many of us are familiar with NCUAQMD issuing annual burn permits and burn day pronouncements.
NORTH COAST AIR BASIN
NCUAQMD shares the North Coast Air Basin, a geographic clustering of air monitoring sites, with two others: the Mendocino AQMD and the Northern Sonoma County APCD. Within the North Coast Air Basin, there are ten air quality monitoring sites. In Humboldt there are two; the first is on Greenwood Avenue in Blue Lake, and the second is at the Public Health Department in Eureka, on the corner of Sixth and I Streets. The other monitoring sites are in Crescent City, Weaverville, Fort Bragg, Willits, Ukiah, Cloverdale, Healdsburg, and Guerneville. The basin’s historical air quality data from 1988-1997 is charted for annual comparisons at https://www.arb.ca.gov/adam/index.html.
CALIFORNIA AIR RESOURCES BOARD
The California Air Resources Board (CARB), which oversees the NCUAQMD and the other air quality districts, inventories mobile source emissions from both gasoline and diesel on-road and off-road vehicles, ranging from heavy duty diesel trucks to pleasure craft in water to weed whackers on land. CARB may be familiar since it weighs in on Timber Harvest Plans (THPs). What is more, CARB inventories toxics and natural sources of carbon emissions, including wildfires–and active volcanoes–like the ones that seemed to consume half of last year in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 9 (California, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, and 148 tribes). In September 2020, NCUAQMD reached more public consciousness when smoke from California fires (August Complex, Elkhorn/Hopkins Fire, Red Salmon Complex, Slater Fire, Oak Fire and Oregon fires) rendered the north coast’s air quality very unhealthy and even hazardous for areas within close proximity to the wildfires. NCUAQMD issued periodic air quality updates and resources, beyond the day when the sky burned an eerie orange and darkness fell.
NCUAQMD HEARING BOARD
Similar to last month’s featured local agency, the Humboldt Local Agency Formation Commission (Humboldt LAFCo) which has quasi-legislative authority, the NCUAQMD Hearing Board has quasi-judicial authority for “appeals of permit decisions, petitions for a variance and requests for abatement orders” (www.ncuaqmd.org/index.php?page=hearing.board). The current Hearing Board is comprised of:
- one professional engineer;
- one medical professional;
- one attorney;
- two public members;
- and one alternate each for the three-year positions above.
Currently, there are openings for all of the alternates, except the attorney’s alternate.
NCUAQMD GOVERNING BOARD
Four elected supervisors are appointed to the NCUAQMD Board by the respective Board of Supervisors for Humboldt, Del Norte, and Trinity counties. Only one elected city official is appointed by mayors within the tri-county region for a total of five governing board members.
NCUAQMD’s Board meets at 10:30 a.m., seven times this year, on Zoom until further notice. The next public meeting is March 18, 2021. Normally, it meets on a rotating basis in the tri-county region.
Executive Director and Air Pollution Control Officer Brian Wilson works with thirteen staff members:
- four administrators,
- four staff in the planning and permitting division,
- three staff in the compliance and enforcement division, and
- two air monitoring specialists.
NORTH COAST UNIFIED AIR QUALITY MANAGEMENT DISTRICT (NCUAQMD)
707 L Street, Eureka, CA 95501
An Environmental Protection Agency website showing Current Air Quality and Historical Air Quality, by area.
AirNow’s interactive map.