Air alert program strapped for funds

Air quality district says it has become creative in its public education approach

Spreading the word about tighter pollution standards this winter won’t be easy. In spite of tighter standards no additional money has been set aside for monitor or incentive programs, experts said.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District — which earmarks about $270,000 in its annual budget for a handful of education programs, including the winter Spare the Air Tonight program, consumer products and lawn and garden equipment — is at a major disadvantage in the winter compared to the summer Spare the Air program, officials said. During the summer the state and federal governments pump millions into the program to encourage public transit by offering free rides, according to Luna Salaver, district spokeswoman.

“It will be a challenge to educate the public [this year],” Salaver said. “When our budget was created, we didn’t know they were going to adopt the more stringent [particulate] standards so soon.”

Spare the Air Tonight, which is voluntary, partners with 2,000 Bay Area businesses to spread the word to workers and residents when a warning is issued. Another 40,000 people and organizations have signed up to receive “air alerts” by text message, e-mail or pager, Salaver said.

Future ambitions include an incentive program to coax homeowners into converting their wood-burning fireplace to gas to spare the air, Salaver said.

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