Thursday, July 9, 2015

Breathe Carefully! Field Burning is Starting: Notes on Air Quality

Two notes on air quality in the paper today that make for a bit of an ironic juxtaposition.

As drought becomes increasingly common, and our mania for lawns runs into municipal checks based on the scarcity of water, the grass seed industry will need to transition. It seems impossible that the demand for grass seed and turf will continue unabated.

Consequently, it's hard to see that there will continue to be the demand for field burning. It creates a form of second-hand smoke. As we learn more about asthma and the costs of particulate air pollution on long-term health outcomes, it seems likely that there will be increased pressure on that front for reduced reliance on field burning. (The costs of the smoke to others is an excellent example of an externalized cost, a cost the grass seed industry does not itself bear and instead successfully off-loads to others to bear.  A carbon tax would probably help even here.)

In any event, as you bike, be aware of the diminished air quality!

Tom McCall signs the Bike Bill in 1971 on the Capitol Steps
The second note is a rara avis! Written by a Republican former State Representative, it argues for both "reliable roads, bridges, and transit," and that Oregonians should "treasure our environment."

Hank Paulson, Republican and Secretary of the Treasury,
argued for a carbon tax year ago
There ought to be a rich center where Democrats and Republicans can agree on the essentials and still debate and compromise on many of the details.

In 2011 SEDCOR seemed to have it right!
What was true in 2011 is still true today:
In this fiscally constrained era, will we be able to build a successful multimodal transportation system, maintaining what we've got and completing networks for new options like passenger rail, transit, biking and walking? Or will we be constrained by a 1950s-era thinking that prioritizes highways at the expense of all other transportation options?
Maybe in the 2016 session legislators can find that common ground.

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