Fig Leaf

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted last Tuesday to oppose a "get out of jail free" bill that the South Coast Air Quality Management District (the "District") is flogging in Sacramento.  The District got caught breaking the law and is now trying to scare the state legislators into changing the law in its favor - in a way that will hurt, not help, cleaning up the air in the dirtiest air basin in the country. 

Here's the context.  Last summer, NRDC and other public interest groups won a lawsuit over the District's failure to conduct a proper (or any) environmental review when it adopted a regulation that would have added many tons of pollution to the South Coast basin.  I've blogged about this before here

The lawsuit put a halt to the District's plan to sell scarce pollution credits to big businesses such as power generators and refineries, costing the District over $400 million.  One reason this plan was so pernicious is that the District was raiding its own "bank account" of credits for its own benefit, leaving fewer and fewer credits for the essential public services and small businesses to which the District had promised credits at no cost.

The District is now shamelessly exploiting the problem that it created by trying to scare the legislature into enacting a bill that the District wrote and that would eliminate the basis for the lawsuit that the District lost.  The District and its lobbyists are telling legislators that raw sewage will flow in the streets (I'm not making this up), police stations and hospitals cannot be built, older polluting facilities cannot be upgraded etc. because of the lawsuit.  In short, life as we know it will come to an end.  All this because the District does not want to disclose the environmental ramifications of its actions, analyze greener alternatives, and reduce any unavoidable impacts - as California law requires.  In fact, if the District and its expensive consultants just create a decent environmental review - which we asked them to do in 2006 - the lawsuit will be over.  This could happen this year. 

But there's more.  Instead of just pretending to help small businesses that can't get emission credits - in part because the District sucked up the credits to sell to big business -- the District tacked some text onto its proposed legislation that could put it back into the business of selling emission credits to big businesses.  Yes, that's right - the District wants to recreate the very system that led to the problem that it claims to want to fix:  more credits for big businesses and fewer credits for small businesses and essential public services.  This is Robin Hood in reverse.   

At last Tuesday's Board of Supervisors hearing, Supervisor Gloria Molina introduced a motion supporting legislation that would preserve the access of small businesses and essential public services to free emission credits, but opposing allowing the District to once again raid its "bank" of credits for cash.  I spoke in support of her motion.  Supervisor Molina, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, each of whom eventually voted for Supervisor Molina's motion, listened patiently as the District, its lobbyists, and the usual industry reps spoke in opposition, trying to play up the suffering of small business while running away from the plain language in the District's own proposed legislation about selling credits to power companies.  Finally, Supervisor Yaroslovsky had heard enough, and told the District speakers to their face that their doom and gloom about small business was just a "fig leaf" intended to cover up the District's real intent - to sell credits to polluters. 

He was right.  Supervisor Molina's motion passed and we are making sure that every legislator in Sacramento knows about it.  We are working hard to solve the problem of getting free emission credits where they need to go.  But we will continue to oppose any plan that will allow the District to profit from making air quality worse.