AQMD Will Also Create Unreliable Pollution Credit Accounting System

DIAMOND BAR, CA (September 8, 2006) -- A coalition of community, health and environmental groups today will demand that the Governing Board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) reject proposed regulations that would allow for the construction of new power plants in communities already burdened by poor air quality. AQMD Governing Board will vote on these proposals during its September 8 meeting. If approved, the proposals will make air pollution emission credits available to companies seeking to build power plants in Vernon, Riverside, and other parts of the Los Angeles air basin that are currently living with the worst air quality in the nation.

"The proposed amendments fly in the face not only of AQMD's commitment to environmental justice but also of the concept of environmental fairness in general," said Tim Grabiel, an attorney with the Environmental Justice project of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "This is as much a health and civil rights issue as it is an environmental problem. AQMD seeks to open the gate for the construction and operation of new polluting facilities in areas that are overwhelmingly working-class communities of color, including already heavily-burdened communities such as Riverside and Southeast Los Angeles."

The amendments will allow power plants to access pollution credits traditionally reserved for "essential public services," such as hospitals, schools, and fire stations and not for commercial utilities that can and should be located elsewhere. "This is corporate welfare for polluters. AQMD should be working to reduce air pollution, not scheming to provide power plants access to emission credits at below market rates," said Dr. Joseph Lyou, Executive Director of the California Environmental Rights Alliance.

If AQMD moves forward with its proposal to adopt Rule 1315 and amend Rules 1302 and 1309.1, the coalition contends that the agency would be violating environmental protection laws. AQMD originally conducted an environmental assessment for the proposed amendments to rules 1309.1 and 1302, but has since shelved that assessment and is now proposing to avoid any sort of environmental review by relying on a narrowly defined exemption.

"The Governing Board cannot make an informed decision on these proposals without having all the relevant and legally required environmental information," said Shana Lazerow, Staff Attorney for Communities for a Better Environment (CBE).

AQMD also failed to engage the communities in the areas likely to be affected by these proposed rule changes, even though they knew where the plants were going to be built. Members of the coalition have repeatedly asked for public meetings, but no meetings were scheduled.

"This rule will have a big effect on my community. There are plans to build a power plant in Vernon, a new addition to hundreds of polluting facilities already in South East Los Angeles; and the worst part is that most of the community is unaware of this issue," said Yeniss Paez, CBE Youth member and resident of Huntington Park.

To compound the problem, AQMD wants to put in place an unreliable pollution credit accounting system, in proposed rule 1315, which creates emission credits where none existed before, and in the process harms some of the most vulnerable communities in the region. As with the other proposals, the Governing Board will be voting on whether to adopt this credit accounting system at the September Board hearing, also without conducting any environmental review.

The coalition will be holding a press conference and rally in opposition to these amendments on September 8, 2006, at 8:30a.m., in front of the AQMD Headquarters at 21865 Copley Dr., Diamond Bar, CA 91765.

The coalition includes Natural Resources Defense Council, Communities for a Better Environment, California Environmental Rights Alliance, Del Amo Action Committee, Coalition for a Safe Environment, Society for Positive Action, California Safe Schools, and Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles.