Local air regulators say it's impossible to meet smog standards without help from the federal government

Local air regulators say it’s impossible to meet smog standards without help from the federal government

Southern California air regulators have approved a sweeping plan to cut pollution in the country’s most polluted region over the next two decades, but say they can’t meet national quality standards air without federal action.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District Board of Directors voted 9-2 on Friday to adopt a nearly 5,000-page plan, which is expected to serve as a roadmap for how the district of the air is expected to comply with the 2015 federal standard for ozone (the lung-aggravating fog commonly referred to as smog).

In the voluminous report, the air district outlines dozens of potential measures that could reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxides and bring the region closer to the 2015 ozone standard, which it must meet by 2037. But the Air District officials said the proposals alone would not help the region achieve that goal and implored the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce pollution at ports, rail yards and airports, which all fall under federal authority.

To meet the 2015 standard, nitrogen oxides — produced by burning fossil fuels — must be limited to 60 tons per day in the airshed, according to estimates by air district officials. By comparison, 351 tons of nitrogen oxides were released every day in 2018, the last year the Air District calculated such emissions. Only 14% of them came from stationary sources that the air district can regulate, such as refineries, power plants and buildings.

The California Air Resources Board is expected to drastically reduce mobile sources under its jurisdiction, recently approving a landmark ban on new gas-powered car sales by 2035.

However, even with current state and local rules, emissions of nitrogen oxides are expected to fall to 184 tonnes per day by 2037, more than triple the 2015 ozone standard.

About 46% of that amount is expected to come from federal sources, including ocean-going vessels, locomotives, aircraft and interstate trucks.

Pollution sources under state and regional jurisdictions “are getting smaller and smaller, but the federal regulatory system has pretty much stalled on heavy mobile sources,” said Sarah Rees, deputy deputy director of the South Coast Air District. . “And so we really need the federal government to be able to step in. It is simply not possible to be able to achieve the standard without federal government action – and substantial action at that.

In April, the Air District sent a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan threatening to sue the agency for violating the Clean Air Act, claiming the federal agency had made the Air District’s job impossible. . The air district still hasn’t filed a complaint, and the letter was widely seen as an attempt to coerce the federal agency to the bargaining table.

However, the stalemate continues.

Given the huge gap in meeting the federal standard, the air district’s plan relies on controversial “black box” measures to achieve the remaining 61 tons of daily reductions. Because “extreme” non-achievement areas, such as the South Coast airshed, typically have 20 years to meet federal goals, the EPA allows local governments to place a certain amount of needed reductions in a “black box” – a category that indicates that authorities rely on future development of pollution prevention technologies or reductions from the federal government.

The South Coast Air District has relied heavily on these in the past and it remains a strategy that has drawn criticism from conservationists. In this year’s plan, 58 of the 61 tonnes in the “black box” were allocated to the EPA.

If the Air District cannot convince the EPA to take action on mobile sources, it has other workaround options. Last year, the Air District passed groundbreaking rules on large warehouse distribution centers, requiring facilities to offset or mitigate pollution from truck traffic by implementing green measures, such as installing solar panels or payment of mitigation fees.

The air district is expected to vote on similar regulations for rail yards and ports.

The air district plan details 49 potential actions that could help reduce nitrogen oxides and other pollutants, most of which focus on a range of new building codes, industry rules and incentives for zero emission technology.

The plan calls for the transition of natural gas appliances in homes, such as water heaters, furnaces and cookers, and plans to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions to 6.3 tonnes per day by 2037. Phasing out natural gas appliances in commercial buildings alone could eliminate nearly 8.5 tons. one day.

For industrial sources, the Air Quality Management Plan proposes measures to reduce emissions from large refinery heaters and boilers by 20%. It also calls for the development of a rule that would require local incinerators to use low-emission burner systems.

For memory :

3:12 p.m. December 5, 2022A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Larry McCallon voted against the clean air plan.

A number of representatives from industry or trade associations attended Friday’s meeting to express their concerns about building renovation spending. Larry McCallon and Carlos Rodriguez, two members of the Air District’s board of directors, described the costs to owners as excessive.

“I’m still very concerned about the residential part of this [plan] which deals with converting all appliances, etc., to zero emissions,” McCallon said. “I think this is going to have a negative impact on our low-income communities and our older people who generally live in older neighborhoods.”

Despite those concerns, McCallon voted to approve the air quality plan, while Rodriguez, along with fellow board member Janice Rutherford, voted against.

Ben Benoit, chairman of the board, acknowledged that parts of the plan still needed to be worked out, but stressed that the plan was only intended to provide general guidance on potential emissions reductions.

“I recognize it’s a bit ambitious,” Benoit said. “But I also recognize that this is not the final regulation for all of this, but a guide to that regulation.”

However, their comments were challenged by environmental leaders and members from heavily impacted areas, who urged board members to consider potential health benefits, such as preventing 1,500 premature deaths each year. and $19.4 billion in health care savings from illnesses averted. From the Inland Empire to the Port region, residents have described how community members suffer from chronic headaches, nosebleeds and asthma attacks.

Marcos Lopez, a Long Beach resident and member of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, said residents are waiting for the day when they no longer have to put air filters in their homes or wake up to soot. on window sills. And despite the many explanations of how this fell under the federal government’s attention, they asked the Air District to take action.

“We need zero emissions now,” Lopez said. “Clearly the freight industry’s only concern is loss of profit. … Our health is more important.

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