Environmentalists skeptical of SCAQMD management plan

SCAQMD officials release revised Air Quality Management Plan draft

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Photo/Anthony Victoria: Sierra Club My Generation protester Mary Valdemar clenching her fist and shouting, "What do we want? Clean Air!" during a protest outside the Mission Inn Spa and Hotel in Riverside on October 7.

Cristian Garza said his asthma attacks have become stronger due to the bad air quality in Mecca–a small town in the Eastern Coachella Valley.

“There are bad air days all the time,” said the 17-year-old Desert Mirage High School student. “I’ve been sent home a lot because of the air quality. There are hundreds of people who struggle with breathing, and many who don’t have the ability to find medical help for it.”

Garza and a dozen other Sierra Club My Generation organizers attended the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s monthly meeting at the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa on October 7 to urge the agency to do more for “those most affected by smog pollution.”

“My biggest problem is when they use the word ‘incentive’,” Garza explained. “When a man is released from jail, you don’t give him money to continue the crime. You punish them. It’s no different with these oil companies and polluters. They have to fine them and find command and control.”

During the meeting, the SCAQMD released a revised air quality plan that intends to mandate more directives to reduce pollution.  SCAQMD Deputy Executive Officer Philip Fine presented a draft of the plan during the meeting that features more regulations to cut emissions from diesel backup generators, furnaces, and other devices.

In addition, the agency also committed to urging oil refineries, energy plants, and other polluters to reduce their impact on the environment.

As outlined in the revised Air Quality Management Plan, the changes came as a result of concerns expressed by public stakeholders that the initial draft, released in June, focused more on non regulatory measures that encourage (as opposed to mandating) polluters to adopt cleaner technology.

The SCAQMD acknowledges that their Regional Clean Air Incentives Market (RECLAIM) program, which required businesses to purchase credits to cover their emissions, may be obsolete. Many opponents claim that such credits allowed for oil refineries and other emitters to prolong installing pollution controls.

“The AQMP should commit to shifting to a command and control system that will make sure large emitters like refineries actually install pollution controls, rather than just buying credits,” Earthjustice Attorney Adrian Martinez expressed to the SCAQMD on September 9.

Fine said the SCAQMD has discussed “sunsetting” the program with stakeholders and working groups.

“The [nitrogen oxide] RECLAIM measure was modified to emphasize consideration of a long-term transition of the program to a command-and-control regulatory structure,” reads a small section in the Air Quality Management Plan, addressing the key revisions.

The Air Quality Management Plan’s 15-year timeline intends to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from approximately 425 Tons Per Day to about 250 Tons Per Day by 2031 (a 55 percent decrease), according to the revised plan’s executive summary. That means significant reductions in smog pollution from trucks, trains, cargo ships, and other transportation sources from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.

A plan will be released later this month to give details on how smog reduction plans will be funded.

Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ) Executive Director Penny Newman told the SCAQMD board they may never reach decent air standards if they continue to allow warehouse complexes, such as  the World Logistics Center in Moreno Valley, to forego traffic and air quality concerns.

“We can’t meet the standard currently,” Newman said. “How can we change that if we’re bringing more and more of these developers in? I encourage this board to visit the communities impacted by this the most.”

Sierra Club My Generation Organizer Jason Martinez urges the SCAQMD to continue considering public input.  

“I think they are taking small steps forward, but not the steps that are necessary to help those people hurting in our communities,” said Martinez. “We want to apply more pressure on corporations. Their facilities are where most of the pollution stems from. It feels like [SCAQMD] is listening to the big polluters, and less to the community.”

 

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