Kieshaun White says that he doesn’t like to talk politics when it comes to the environment. He prefers to stick to the data.
A year ago, as a high school senior, he launched a network of air-pollution sensors and real-time app to monitor breathability around his native Fresno. White founded Healthy Fresno Air, using grant funds from the city’s Boys and Men of Color group, which was recently awarded $50,000 by former President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.
At first, he deployed a handful of monitors at high schools on Fresno’s heavily polluted southwest side; since then, he has expanded the network to other quadrants of the city. This spring, he launched a public-facing app that shows real-time information gathered by the sensors about levels of PM 2.5 and PM 10—the fine particulate matter (PM) that blow off freeways and smokestacks and into mouths and noses.
The aim is to provide students and school staff with accurate and up-to-date information about how safe it is for young people to be active outdoors. One in six children in the San Joaquin Valley suffer from asthma. So does White. “I’ve always felt it was on myself to do something,” says the 19-year-old.
But California’s air quality standards have become a major political football. Last month, the Trump administration moved to revoke the state’s ability to set its own, stricter vehicle emissions standards, which have been in place since the early days of the Clean Air Act. Days later, in a letter to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which is the regulatory agency that sets and enforces the state’s high standards for tailpipe emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency threatened to hold back billions in federal highway aid to the state. California, the EPA declared, has “the worst air quality in the United States.”
Now California, 22 other states, and several cities in favor of the tighter emissions standards are suing the administration. “This is not about clean air,” Nathan Click, a spokesman for Governor Gavin Newsom, told the Washington Post. ”This is political retribution against California, plain and simple.”