Suit Prevents New Polluting Power Plants in Low-Income Neighborhoods

Air District's Environmental Study Determined Inadequate
LOS ANGELES (July 29, 2008) – Finding for a coalition of community, health and environmental groups, the Honorable Ann I. Jones’ decision today forbids the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) from subsidizing new power plants in the Southland at the expense of air quality without a full analysis of the environmental impacts. Today’s court decision confirms that AQMD’s environmental study failed to admit the nature of the project AQMD proposed: to create new credits and distribute them for use by fossil-fueled power plants. The study also failed to disclose impacts to air quality and public health, or explore alternatives and protections that could minimize those harms. Power plants are proposed in Vernon, Grand Terrace, and other parts of the Los Angeles and Mohave air basins.
“Millions of people living in Southern California are currently living with the worst air quality in the nation,” said David Pettit, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “It’s possible to meet Southern California’s energy demand without poisoning ourselves in the process. It’s taken decades to slowly improve the air quality in Southern California and today’s decision not only protects those gains, but sets us on a path to breathing cleaner air.”
“It’s the air district’s job to clean up the air in places like South East LA, where the Vernon Power Plant wants to build,” said Darryl Molina, an organizer at Communities for a Better Environment. “That plant alone would result in between 3 and 11 deaths every year it operates. Ordering the district to consider and address the rules’ impacts shows that the court understands: creating new pollution credits means that new fossil fuel power plants like Vernon will make the air people in low income communities of color breathe dirtier.”
Today’s decision rescinds two AQMD rules allowing power plant developers to purchase air quality credits from the “Priority Reserve” account, which is an internal reservoir of pollution credits usually reserved for essential public services like schools and hospitals.  Although it offered credits at below-market rates, AQMD stood to profit roughly $420 million by selling Priority Reserve air credits to power plant developers.
“The District’s effort to ensure that the Basin’s energy needs are met with fossil fuels instead of clean-renewables is outrageous in light of global climate change and the negative health impacts on every person living in this air basin,” said Angela Johnson Meszaros, attorney for California Communities Against Toxics. “We call upon the District’s Governing Board to take the negative health and environmental impacts of fossil fuel seriously.”
Federal law requires developers to purchase emission credits prior to power plant operation to confirm no net increase in future pollution, ensuring the South Coast Air Basin progresses toward federal air quality standards under the Clean Air Act. AQMD is trying to create air credits from emission reductions that occurred in the past – up to 18 years ago – to stock the Priority Reserve.

The coalition includes Natural Resources Defense Council, Communities for a Better Environment, Coalition for a Safe Environment, and California Communities Against Toxics.