Suit Challenges Legality of Air Credits to SoCal Polluters

Recent court victory confirms flawed credit-creating process
LOS ANGELES (August 18, 2008) – On the heels of a court victory exposing efforts to create new air pollution credits with a sub-par environmental review, a coalition of health, community and environmental justice groups sued the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) today. AQMD’s data confirms the air district doled out invalid pollution credits during the last 17 years to polluting facilities and energy companies in Southern California, sometimes making millions in profits.
“The air district can’t keep giving away air pollution credits that don’t exist in the first place, especially in the dirtiest air basin in the country,” said Tim Grabiel, staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It is unfortunate that the very agency charged with protecting our air continues to pollute it.”  
Today’s suit challenges the validity of millions of credits distributed since 1990, to polluters from the air district’s “offset accounts,” which are internal reservoirs of pollution credits usually reserved for smaller facilities and essential public services like schools and hospitals. This latest lawsuit follows a legal victory on July 28, in Los Angeles Superior Court confirming the unlawful actions by AQMD to create credits for sale at below-market value to pollution-emitting facilities.
According to the coalition, AQMD does not have, and never did have, documentation that actual pollution reductions occurred to allow them to distribute millions of pollution credits. Legal air credits result from shutdowns of older facilities or reductions at existing facilities and require proof that the decrease in emissions is real, surplus, permanent, quantifiable, and enforceable.
“For decades the air district has given out credits to countless polluters without bothering to keep track of where the credits came from, where they went, and whether they had enough credits to cover all the emissions they were allowing,” said Angela Johnson Meszaros, counsel for Desert Citizens Against Pollution. “We are asking the court to stop this practice immediately and force the air district to clean up the air in the communities that hosted the unlawful pollution.”
“People living in the South Coast Air Basin should not be forced to sacrifice their family’s health and lives breathing dirty air justified with fraudulent credits,” said Jesse Marquez, executive director of Coalition for a Safe Environment. “The polluting facilities accessing these credits can afford the best pollution control technologies but choose to make higher profits and choose to locate these facilities in low-income and poor communities that can ill-afford any more pollution.”
This same coalition of health, community, and environmental justice organizations filed two previous lawsuits in response to the 2006 and 2007 AQMD rule change allowing 10 fossil fuel-fired power plants to move forward in Southern California. A recent AQMD report confirmed that constructing just one of the 10 proposed power plants in the City of Vernon will likely result in killing anywhere from four to 11 people each year, causing hundreds of premature deaths over the life of the facility. The plant is planned for construction next to a heavily populated, majority Latino neighborhood.
“In South East Los Angeles, where there are lots of polluting facilities, we look to the District to ensure that companies are operating in compliance with air quality laws and protecting public health,” said Darryl Molina, organizer with Communities for a Better Environment, who works in Huntington Park. “We expect better from the AQMD.” 
The coalition includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, Coalition for a Safe Environment, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, and Communities for a Better Environment. They seek an injunction that prohibits AQMD from distributing these invalid credits in the future. Facilities that relied on good faith on these unlawful credits, likely numbering in the thousands, will not be affected by the lawsuit. Instead, the coalition seeks a court order that phases out the use of unlawful credits and requires AQMD to implement a program to reduce emissions equivalent to the emissions that were unlawfully allowed. Emission reductions should take place in the same communities impacted by the unlawful emissions.