By ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER EDITORIAL BOARD
The South Coast Air Quality Management District is a powerful agency that makes and enforces regulations to meet federal and state clean air standards.
Everyone who has lived in Southern California long enough can tell you that the cleanup of the region’s air is a tremendous success story.
The cost has been considerable. Billions of dollars have been and continue to be spent to replace and retrofit equipment and engines, and high-paying manufacturing jobs have been lost to places where it is less difficult and expensive to operate.
How much more should we spend to achieve further cleanup of the air in the South Coast Air Basin?
The SCAQMD has just released the final draft of its 2016 Air Quality Management Plan — the “legally enforceable blueprint” for meeting federal air quality standards — after a long process of development and public comment. However, it appears that while the form of public process was observed, the substance was sometimes missing.
The plan requires $15 billion in new revenue, but it doesn’t specify who will pay, or how much. One staff suggestion: higher DMV fees.
The plan includes new control measures with key emission reductions identified as “TBD,” or “to be determined.” Organizations representing major sectors of the economy have raised concerns about a plan for regulations with no disclosure of the extent, cost or consequences of required compliance measures.
In a public comment letter signed by the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, the Orange County Business Council and organizations representing the construction and commercial real estate industries, the Southern California Leadership Council called on the air district to drop all “TBD” measures except as areas of future study.
The groups also urged the SCAQMD to adopt “a more robust posture against overly-burdensome and unachievable federal and state air quality mandates,” adding, “Many of the most recent federally imposed criteria air pollution standards are based on scientific (health) justifications that are arguable at best.”
SCAQMD’s draft socioeconomic analysis claims that the 2016 AQMP will create $258.4 billion in public health benefits, mostly from preventing an estimated annual average of 1,800 premature deaths said to be caused by PM2.5, fine particles in the air including dust and soot. But some scientists dispute that. Retired UCLA environmental epidemiologist James Enstrom cited evidence that “the average daily human exposures to PM2.5, ozone, and NOx in the South Coast Air Basin are well below the levels that cause adverse health effects,” and tougher air pollution regulations “are not justified on a public health or socioeconomic basis.”
Other criticisms of the 2016 AQMP came from the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, L.A. County Business Federation (BizFed), the American Trucking Association and John Wayne Airport, but the comments appear to have had little or no effect on the final draft of the AQMP, scheduled to be adopted at a public meeting on Feb. 3.
The 2016 AQMP will have a profound impact on the Southern California economy, affecting job creation in every sector. Now is the time for our elected representatives at the city, county, state and federal level to look closely at this final draft and take responsibility for making sure it’s both feasible and effective.