Clean Air Plan Puts Pressure on Ports

Random Lengths News | October 25, 2006
On Oct. 10, the regional authority responsible for Southland air quality released the draft version of its 2007 Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP), calling for 50 percent cuts in smog-forming emissions by 2020, in order to meet federal clean air standards. It also calls for smaller, but more wide-ranging cuts in emissions producing fine particulates by 2014���potentially a more difficult target���and outlines 60 potential control measures to achieve both goals.

But uncertainties about cooperation from state and federal regulators, as well as the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach threaten the plan’s success.

"We need a no-holds-barred campaign to meet the formidable challenge of achieving clean air," said Barry Wallerstein, executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD).

“The few years remaining to meet attainment deadlines afford little margin for error,� the AQMP states.

AQMD’s legal authority is almost exclusively confined to regulating stationary pollution sources. As a result, according to an AQMD press statement, “In 2014, AQMD's authority will cover only 11 percent of all nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, 24 percent of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and 24 percent of sulfur oxides (SOx).� (These are “precursor emissions� from which PM2.5 is formed. NOx and VOCs contribute to ozone as well.)

For everything else, the AQMD must depend on cooperation from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the US Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA) and the ports, which are the region’s number one pollution source, “accounting for 73 percent of SOx, 24 percent of NOx, and 10 percent of PM2.5 in 2020,� according to the AQMP.

"While AQMD exceeded its commitment to emission reductions in the last air quality plan, CARB and EPA fell short by a wide margin," Wallerstein stressed. "Once again, we are calling on CARB and EPA to substantially accelerate their emission reduction programs to help us achieve healthful air for the 16 million residents of our region."

“Similarly,� the report notes, “the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have authority they must utilize to assist in the implementation of various strategies if the region is to attain clean air by federal deadlines.�

The ports’ recently-proposed Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) is less stringent than the earlier “No Net Increase� Plan, which would have stabilized emissions at 2001 levels���far above what they need to be to meet AQMP targets.

"We're hopeful that that plan [CAAP] will be strengthened and not weakened as that plan moves to adoption," Wallerstein said.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is “thankful that AQMD is stepping in,� said NRDC attorney Melissa Lin Perrella, who serves on the AQMP advisory board. “The CAAP didn’t include clear measurable goals.�

In her estimate, “This would force the port to achieve some clear measurable goals.�

“They should be commended for sticking out their necks,� she concluded.

AQMD Senior Policy Analyst Peter Greenwald agreed. “We think it’s very important to have measurable significant targets that would involve significant reductions from toady emissions,� he said. AQMD has urged the inclusion of numerical targets before, he pointed out. “We are urging that that be done as soon as the AQMP is finalized. [April-May 2007] We don’t want to wait for a year or more.�

Port of Los Angeles Board President David Freeman has already promised the CAAP would be “continuously updated.�

Things look even worse at the project level. The new China Shipping Terminal EIR foresees significantly increased pollution that is not offset by subsidizing emission reductions elsewhere in the Port���and it’s just the first of dozens of projects awaiting EIR review.

While there’s nothing in existing law to prevent this, the Ports could adopt stronger measures as port-wide policy, and might even be effectively forced to do so under so-called “backstop measures� that AMD will be developing next year, enforceable under state law. The AQMP says these measures are intended “to ensure the adequacy of and effective implementation of Port measures and strategies proposed or developed by ports or CARB.�

Greenwald explained, “The intent is to establish numerical enforceable targets that we need for the AQMP to be successful.�

Yearly port-wide and project-level limits are possibilities. However, with a long line of EIRs pending, the Port Community Advisory Committee (PCAC) is not willing to wait. On Oct. 17, PCAC passed a resolution recommending that the Board of Harbor Commissioners only approve EIRs with no significant air quality impacts���including port-wide mitigation, if necessary.

“It passed 12 [for]-3 [against]-4 [abstained],� PCAC parliamentarian June Smith said later that week. “Tom Russell who is the city attorney, said, 'I don’t think it’s a legitimate vote. Doesn’t it have to be a majority of the membership?'�

In fact, resolutions require a majority of those present.

“They clearly did not want this to pass,� Smith concluded.

As the AQMP moves forward, the Port’s wiggle room is quickly disappearing.

“The Port has a very significant impact on the health of the people in the area, as well as regionally,� Greenwald stressed. “It’s critical that they come under control as fast as possible.�

Implementing the plan will cost billions of dollars, the AQMP states, citing cost estimates of $2 billion for the ports’ Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) and $10 billion for California’s Goods Movement Plan as indicators. “However,� it continues, “the economic values of avoiding adverse health effects are projected to be many times higher than the implementation cost of clean air strategies.�

The unspoken political problem is that those generating pollution are a well-organized, politically powerful industry, while those suffering the costs are a diffused and politically unorganized public.

“They won’t know who they are until they develop respiratory disease and health costs,� observed Jon Haveman, of the Public Policy Institute of California, around the time his report, “California’s Global Gateways� was released in 2004. “They’re much more difficult to organize.�

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