AQMD approves new smog-cutting plan

(Photo) The downtown skyline is enveloped in smog shortly before sunset on November 17, 2006 in Los Angeles, California. DAVID MCNEW/GETTY IMAGES


By: Sharon McNary

Air quality regulators adopted an extensive new package of rules Friday aimed at cutting smog in Southern California by half within 7 years.

The plan from the South Coast Air Quality Management District relies more on incentives than penalties to bring the nation’s dirtiest air basin into compliance with federal clean air standards.

It envisions up to $15 billion worth of financial incentives to, among other things, coax truck fleets into buying low-emissions rigs.

But as of now, it’s unclear where the money for those incentives is going to come from.

“This plan relies very heavily on a whole bunch of money that we don’t have in our pocket,” said governing board member Joe Lyou.

The plan also relies on voluntary pollution cuts. It calls on businesses to suggest their own emissions-cutting strategies. But if they don’t result in enough cuts in pollution, the agency’s rule-makers can step in with mandatory reductions.

Another provision calls on airports to figure out how to reduce emissions from cars, trucks and equipments but exempts sea ports and warehouses from a similar requirement.

The plan aims to reduce smog by 45 percent by 2023 and an additional 10 percent by 2031. For the plan to actually take effect, the AQMD governing board must approve specific rules over the next few years to meet its  goals.

Regions like the greater Los Angeles air basin that do not meet federal air quality standards are required to have a plan for how they expect to achieve enough reduction in pollution to meet the standards.

The AQMD passed its last air quality management plan in 2012, and the new plan is an update meant to conform to new federal standards for ozone. The new plan is the AQMD’s road map for achieving compliance with those standards.

The plan has rules that are similar to past plans to reduce tons of pollutants. The newly adopted plan is far more specific in describing how much of the reductions in pollution would come from financial incentives for specific industries, said AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood.

That outside money could come from state legislation or federal grants, Atwood said.

Previous plans had left undefined how the reductions in emissions might be achieved, assuming developments in new technologies that sometimes did not come to pass, Atwood said. The new plan does not have those assumptions.

The latest plan also relies on incentives to get industries to voluntarily lower emissions versus previous plans’ system of mandates and penalties to meet standards.  It also has a new process that allows AQMD staff and polluting industries to collaborate for one year on reducing pollution, and if they don’t reach an agreement, formal rule-making would kick in.

About 88 percent of the region’s smog problem comes from cars and trucks, construction vehicles, planes and ships — what the AQMD calls “mobile sources” of ozone over which it has little authority. The agency can only offer incentives to California vehicle owners, but many trucks come from states that don’t have California’s stricter emission controls.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl had proposed a series of amendments  that would have controlled so-called “indirect sources” of pollution coming from warehouses, ports and airports where so many vehicles congregate.

“This is a major source of pollution, in a sense caused by the existence of the ports, the existence of a new huge warehouse, the existence of an airport, because it attracts so many mobile sources,” Kuehl said.

Governing board member Shawn Nelson, an Orange County Supervisor, discounted the idea of indirect sources of pollution and said the AQMD should not have approved the airport rule because the federal government preempts local government control of aircraft and airport activities.

The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles opposed the indirect source rule, said L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents the city on the AQMD governing board. He said the ports would prefer to enter a side agreement to reduce emissions from the two ports than to have the AQMD draft rules. He said collaborative rulemaking between the ports and air quality regulators would get emissions reduced more quickly than a legal stalemate if the ports sued.

“There’s the potential for litigation right off the bat” with a strict rulemaking amendment focusing on the ports, said Dwight Robinson, a Lake Forest City Councilman who represents Orange County cities on the governing board.

The ports rule failed on an 8-5 vote.

For warehouses, Kuehl’s proposal would have required warehouses that were new or had been substantially changed to reduce the emissions from their vehicles and operations. That proposal failed on a 9-4 vote.

The airport version of the indirect sources rule, which applies only to non-aircraft operations, passed on a 7-6 vote of the board.

The governing board voted 7-6 to approve a motion by board member Judy Mitchell to phase out the RECLAIM cap and trade program as quickly as possible. The program allowed polluting industries to buy and sell credits permitting them to emit a certain amount of pollutants. The program faced criticism because so many credits were issued at the outset that it did not achieve the expected reductions.

Mitchell’s proposal also required a 5 tons per day reduction in nitrogen oxides from large stationary sources of pollution like refineries and power plants by 2025. That is the same amount of NOX reduction proposed in the draft plan, but it would be reduce faster by several years.

The governing board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District did not take public testimony on the plan because the comment period had closed at the last hearing in February. Still, several hundred people attended the hearing, most in two large organized groups.

One group’s members wore breathing masks and held up signs #Ijustwanttobreathe. They stood during deliberations on some of the stricter rules. A second large group of individuals wore pins identifying themselves as members of the Los Angeles Business Federation. They tended to stand up when a member of the governing board was speaking against a few of the amendments that Kuehl proposed.

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