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Air Plan Would Doom Southern California to Decades of Smog

Tougher Measures Needed to Meet 2010 Clean Air Deadline

Los Angeles (July 30, 2003) -- A regional air quality plan to be considered on Friday would doom Southern California to decades of smog, and thwart efforts to meet a 2010 federal clean air deadline, according to a coalition of conservation and public health groups.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Coalition for Clean Air, Communities for a Better Environment, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and California Environmental Rights Alliance called on the board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) to reject the plan, and instead work with state and federal air regulators to develop stronger pollution reduction measures.

"This is the weakest air plan we've seen for the region in a decade," said Gail Ruderman Feuer, director of the Southern California Air Project for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "It delays tough decisions on pollution reduction until just three years before the clean air deadline. We need to make those decisions now, otherwise we're only pretending to get rid of air pollution."

Federal law requires that Southern California have a plan to clear its skies of smog by 2010. However, the blueprint being considered by the SCAQMD would go only 20% of the way to clean air, while leaving the other 80% of needed pollution reductions unspecified. Members of the coalition said the SCAQMD, the state Air Resources Board (ARB) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must identify those reductions now or jeopardize both public health and the regional economy.

"The only way Southern California can have clean skies by 2010 is if these agencies work together to implement cost-effective pollution reduction measures that they've so far been afraid to push," said Todd Campbell, policy director of the Coalition for Clean Air. "Missing that deadline would mean exposing 16 million Southern Californians to unhealthy air and encouraging tourists and businesses to spend their money in less polluted cities."

Failure to meet the 2010 clean air deadline might also cost the region billions of dollars in federal grants for transportation projects.

The air plan's shortfall amounts to over 300 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) entering the atmosphere every day. These are the pollutants that create smog, causing eye, ear, nose and bronchial irritation, asthma, and respiratory disease. The SCAQMD has committed to only 26.5 tons per day of short-term emissions reductions, leaving the decision on how to reduce the remaining tons until 2007.

Members of the coalition called on air regulators to mandate tougher emission standards for new cars and trucks; require car manufacturers to buy-back and scrap highly polluting vehicles before they can sell new ones; insist that fleet operators retrofit dirty diesel engines; and impose stricter rules on the use of industrial cleaning solvents, paint and consumer products such as hair spray. They also demanded quicker action to cut diesel exhaust, a known carcinogen, at Southern California's ports and airports.

"Low income people of color live closest to the largest and most toxic sources of air pollution," said Carlos Porras, executive director for Communities for a Better Environment, "and we are very disappointed to see that in spite of the board's strong expression of commitment to environmental justice recently, AQMD is proposing a plan that will greatly harm our disproportionately impacted communities for years to come."

The coalition also proposed that ships docked in the ports be required to plug into electric power instead of idling their diesel engines, and switch to auxiliary tanks of cleaner, low sulfur fuel while in coastal waters.

"The board faces a major decision. The new AQMD plan, if approved, will definitively result in increased death and disease -- that's a heavy decision," said Jonathan Parfrey, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "Add the cost of additional emergency room visits, additional asthma treatments, and how L.A.'s smog situation dissuades tourism -- it doesn't take a brain surgeon to see that smog bears enormous costs."

Many additional tons of pollution could be eliminated each day if the thousands of large diesel trucks that move heavy freight containers at the ports ran on alternative fuels and airports used zero emission electric motors on all baggage carriers and ground service equipment, improvements that could be paid for with fees from shippers and airlines, according to members of the coalition.

"State and local air pollution officials must fulfill their mandate to protect public health," said Dr. Joseph K. Lyou, executive director of California Environmental Rights Alliance. "Now is not a time for half-measures -- we need a bold plan that actually achieves clean air."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Coalition for Clean Air is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to restoring clean healthful air to California by advocating responsible public health policy; providing technical and educational expertise; and promoting broad-based community involvement. More information is available through the Coalition's website.

Communities for a Better Environment Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) is an environmental health and justice non-profit organization, promoting clean air, clean water and the development of toxin-free communities. CBE directly equips residents impacted by industrial pollution with the tools to inform, monitor, and transform their immediate environment. Visit www.cbecal.org for more information.

Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles is committed to the achievement of a sustainable environment. The group was American recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. Visit www.psrla.org for more information.

The California Environmental Rights Alliance is dedicated to achieving environmental health and justice in California by improving the quality of environmental decisions and through the empowerment of communities. Visit www.envirorights.org for more information.

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