LOS ANGELES (October 21, 2003) -- In an unusual alliance, environmental and public health groups and the region's clean air agency are calling on the state Air Resources Board (ARB) to adopt much tougher pollution controls. At a meeting this Thursday in Diamond Bar, the board will consider a plan meant to demonstrate how Southern California will clear its skies of smog by a 2010 federal deadline.
The board was supposed to consider an air plan at its hearing last month, but after the plan was sharply criticized and the board was hit with nearly two thousand protest faxes and emails, it delayed hearing the plan to develop tougher pollution reduction measures.
However, the revised blueprint has not yet been released to the public, and indications are that it only cuts at most an additional ten tons of pollutants per day in the near term. To comply with a federal clean air mandate, the plan should expedite reductions of more than an additional 400 tons per day.
"This is an anemic plan," said Gail Ruderman Feuer, a senior attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and director of the organization's Southern California Air Project. "It puts off all the hard work until years from now, and that doesn't help anyone."
At a press conference Tuesday, environmentalists and public health professionals were joined by actress and conservationist Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and a representative from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), in calling on the air board to implement stronger measures to cut smog.
"As a mother of two young boys, I'm pleading with board members to do more," said Louis-Dreyfus. "They're our last line of defense against unhealthy air." The former co-star of the sitcom "Seinfeld," is a board member of Heal the Bay, a member of NRDC's Executive Forum, and a long-time advocate for environmental causes.
"AQMD has worked hard to reduce emissions from the tens of thousands of businesses we regulate," said Barry Wallerstein, executive officer of the South Coast AQMD. "However, the state and federal regulators have sole jurisdiction over 80 percent of smog-forming emissions, and we can't win this battle without more help from them."
AQMD has responsibility for reducing pollution from so-called stationary sources, from gas stations to oil refineries and power plants, whereas the state air board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have authority to reduce emissions from mobile sources, including everything from cars and trucks to aircraft, ships, locomotives and construction equipment, which account for approximately 80 percent of the Southland's smog.
"The summer of 2003 was the smoggiest in Southern California in six years, with ozone levels as much as 80 percent over the federal limit," said Todd Campbell, policy director of the Coalition for Clean Air. "To protect public health, the ARB must develop a plan which is bold and innovative."
A coalition of environmental and public health groups last week sent a letter to the Air Resources Board outlining numerous pollution reduction measures it wants the board to adopt this Thursday. The coalition includes NRDC, Coalition for Clean Air, California Environmental Rights Alliance, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Communities for a Better Environment, California Safe Schools, Global Green, Del Amo Action Committee, California Communities Against Toxics, Union of Concerned Scientists, Environment California, Environmental Defense, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California, and the Los Angeles Interfaith Environmental Council.
Among other things, the letter asks the board to mandate pollution-control devices for old cars, adopt new reformulated gasoline standards that reduce sulfur content, use a remote-sensing program to find and then clean-up big polluting cars and light trucks, clean-up jet skis, and require lawn and garden equipment to be electric. It also called on the board to follow through on a commitment Governor Gray Davis made last month to reduce "the use of diesel generators in ships at West Coast ports."
AQMD's Governing Board made similar recommendations to the Air Resources Board in August when AQMD forwarded a dozen proposed air pollution control measures.
"If ships plugged into electric power while at berth instead of idling their diesel engines, it would cut many tons of pollution now being emitted each day from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach," said Scott Kuhn, legal director of Communities for a Better Environment. "It's low income people of color who live and work closest to the largest and most toxic sources of air pollution, and that injustice must end."
The air plan's shortfall amounts to hundreds of tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) entering the atmosphere every day. These are the pollutants that create ozone smog and contribute to particulate pollution, causing eye, ear, nose and bronchial irritation, asthma, respiratory disease and even increased deaths.
"We're in danger of returning to the days of first-stage smog alerts when it's literally unhealthful to breathe," said Jonathan Parfrey, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "That's not a legacy any of us should want to leave for our children."
"Everyone knows that the plan before the board won't cut pollution quickly enough to get us back on the path toward clean air," said Dr. Joseph K. Lyou, executive director of California Environmental Rights Alliance. "It's time for board members to roll up their sleeves and take a stand against air pollution."
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.