Friday, June 29th, 2007 at 5:28 pm in Uncategorized.
After Robert Sawyer, the chairman of the California Air Resources Board, was fired by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Thursday, the Insider asked San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill, who was appointed to the board earlier this year, to weigh in on the fallout.
The board’s 11 members serve at the pleasure of the governor, and are charged with setting and enforcing air pollution rules and regulations for the state. Sawyer, a professor emeritus of energy at the University of California, Berkeley, had been at the helm full-time for 18 months.
“He’s probably the most credible man that I’ve ever met,” Hill said. “I find him to be extremely intelligent, courageous, with the highest integrity and with a tremendous knowledge of air quality.”
Initial reports were unclear as to whether Sawyer had resigned or been fired, but he cleared the air (no pun intended) on that one in the Los Angeles Times today:
“I was fired, I did not resign… The entire issue is the independence of the board, and that’s why I got fired,” Sawyer told the Times. “I have board members going all the way back to [Gov. Pete] Wilson’s time, and they tell me they have never seen such a level of interference as is occurring at this time.”
“I have not felt political pressure from anyone, directly,” Hill said in response. “But I don’t disagree with Dr. Sawyer’s comments.”
Sawyer’s firing comes after the board approved a request by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District on July 14 to seek an 11-year extension of a federal deadline to comply with air quality standards set by the Clean Air Act. The extension will give the region until 2024 – instead of 2013 – to bring its air pollution levels down to tougher standards.
“I was deeply disappointed,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement issued Thursday. “The air board let the federal government off the hook by seeking delay.”
The vote was 7-1; Hill said the board really had no choice.
“If you were to ban all automobiles, all diesel trucks, all farm equipment, you still would not meet the standard by 2013,” Hill said. “You could ban everything and you ain’t solving the problem.”
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, more than 2,200 people in the region have died prematurely in the past two years because of dirty air. Fresno and Kings counties have the highest rates of childhood asthma in the state.
The air district is doing everything it can under current law and technology, Hill said, but it still won’t be enough to meet regulations by 2013 given the extreme levels of air pollution there. It will have to bank on the development of future technology, Hill said.
“I’d change my vote in a minute if I could see the opportunities for emissions reductions that are not here today,” Hill said.
Still, San Joaquin Valley has already decreased its emissions by 50 percent, Hill said, and will increase it an additional 70 percent by 2013.
Hill also hinted that the governor may have been irked after the board voted June 21 to approve three early-action measures to slow global warming.
“Sawyer, (UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies Director Daniel) Sperling and I voted against the motion,” Hill said. “The three of us wanted more early-action items and we listed a few. We didn’t prevail.
“That was a very significant vote,” Hill added. “I know there was a lot of pressure over that vote.”
Sawyer told the L.A. Times that a Cabinet secretary “ordered him to limit to three” the number of early-action measures. Environmentalists, according to the Times, complained that the three measures were not enough, and Sawyer ignored the Cabinet secretary’s order. Then, Sawyer told the times, he was “baffled two days after the vote when the governor issued a news release criticizing the board for not taking more action.”
Gotta love politics.
Previously: Hitting the big time