SoCal Air Agency Forced to Reconsider Major Polluting Decision

Action by Community, Environmental Groups Forces AQMD to Postpone Vote on Millions of Pounds per Year of Harmful Emissions
LOS ANGELES (July 13, 2007) – In a decision reflecting the pressure generated by a coalition of community and environmental groups,
the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) board decided today to postpone a vote on two controversial rules that would allow dozens of highly polluting facilities to be built in the region, including several power plants to be located in densely-populated neighborhoods.
AQMD justified the postponement as a way to give the groups time to review a stack of documents released by the agency two days ago in response to an earlier coalition lawsuit challenging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in similar rules considered by AQMD last year. That lawsuit is still pending in state court.
The board also requested that concerns raised by its members about staff recommendations be addressed before a new vote is scheduled for sometime in August. Among the issues raised by board members who questioned staff recommendations are the justification for so many plants and the mitigation mechanisms that should be put in place to deal with the resulting environmental impact.
“Today’s decision is a public recognition that there are fundamental problems with the proposed rules,” said Tim Grabiel, an environmental justice attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “If in August they come forward as they are, AQMD can expect just as much controversy.”
The coalition of community and environmental groups challenging the rules include NRDC, California Communities Against Toxics (CCAT), Coalition for a Safe Environment (CSE) and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE).
“Those rules would allow more annual CO2 emissions than what is generated by 107 countries around the world,” said Angela Johnson Meszaros, an attorney representing CCAT and co-chair of AB 32’s Environmental Justice Advisory Committee. “The final decision by AQMD will have an enormous impact in terms of human health, local air quality, and global climate.”
Under the rules, AQMD would generate millions of pounds of emission credits that it would sell at below-market rates to new polluting facilities. These facilities – including 11 power plants – would generate over 81 million pounds per year of new emissions associated with asthma and cancer, and allow in excess of 35 billion pounds per year of CO2 (a main contributor to global warming) – approximately 5 percent of California’s current CO2 inventory.
AQMD, citing the energy crisis in 2001, has argued that if they were not allowed to proceed with the plan, the governor might again have to suspend clean air laws in the event of new rolling brownouts, which would result in new power plants being built anyway. An independent energy consultant, commissioned by the coalition, concluded that these claims were exaggerated.
The coalition contended all along that there are other ways of meeting the growing energy needs of the Basin other than simply relying on polluting fossil fuel power plants, and that the real reason behind it was to generate funds – AQMD could make over $300 million from the sale of emission credits.
“These rules might make money, but they don’t make sense,” said Jesse Marquez, president of the Coalition for a Safe Environment. “AQMD seems more concerned with counting money than protecting our air quality.”
An AQMD report revealed that a power plant to be located in Vernon would cause annual mortality in the area anywhere from 4 to 11 persons, resulting in hundreds of premature deaths over the life of the facility. The plant is planned for construction next to a heavily populated, majority Latino neighborhood.
“We need emissions reductions, not more pollution,” said Robert Cabrales, resident of Huntington Park and Communities for a Better Environment organizer. “AQMD’s mission is to protect our air, not put our health up for sale.”
This is the second time these rules have come before the AQMD’s Governing Board. Last September similar rules were approved by AQMD. A month later, the coalition filed a lawsuit for violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).