Local air quality regulators on Friday adopted a sweeping air emission reduction plan that cracks down on industrial polluters, especially local oil refineries. In a separate action, the regulators also enacted a new rule to limit emissions from metal finishing plants, which until now have been mostly exempt from regulation.
In its 11-2 vote approving the air emission reduction plan, the 13-member South Coast Air Quality Management District board began the phase out of the agency’s 22-year-old cap-and-trade program involving 272 industrial facilities throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties and the Inland Empire.
While supported by the businesses and the oil industry, the cap-and-trade program known as Reclaim had come under increasing pressure from environmental and community groups because they felt it was letting polluters off the hook. AQMD staff also recommended switching to more aggressive traditional emission reduction regulations to meet state and federal pollution standards.
The board ordered AQMD staff to report back in 60 days with a target date for ending the Reclaim program and returning those facilities to traditional emission reduction regulations.
In a related action, the board ordered the largest facilities in the Reclaim program to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides by a cumulative five tons a day no later than 2025.
But the board rejected one proposal to crack down on emissions: an amendment from a new board member, L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, to regulate the flow of diesel trucks and other vehicles into and out of the region’s industrial warehouses. That proposed amendment met with stiff resistance from the logistics industry.
Overall, though, district officials said the plan was the most sweeping effort in the agency’s 50-year history to combat air pollution.
“This air quality plan is a sensible, comprehensive, regulatory approach that will improve the health and lives of all residents across our region,” Wayne Nastri, the district’s executive officer, said in a statement. “Our extensive public participation process was critical to the development of the most comprehensive plan to date.”
This crackdown on pollution was facilitated by the appointment of two new board members – including Kuehl – to the board in recent months, both of whom favored a more aggressive approach from the agency. Prior to that, a slim Republican majority favored a more collaborative approach with industry. All 13 board members are appointed by various state and local authorities; most are local elected officials.
Meanwhile, in a separate action, the board voted to reduce metal particulate emissions from an estimated 22 metal grinding and cutting facilities. These facilities, which until now have been largely exempt from district regulations, will now have to build enclosures to house their grinding and cutting operations and properly vent those enclosures through pollution-control equipment.
“Over the past few years we have learned a great deal about the metal forging industry and the need to quickly address emissions from these types of operations,” the AQMD’s Nastri said in a statement. “This rule requires facilities to take immediate action, helping to protect public health from exposure to toxic metals in all areas of our region.”
Public policy and energy reporter Howard Fine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @howardafine.