When it comes to air quality regulations in the L.A. area, few individuals are as influential as environmental attorney Robert Wyman.
Employed by many of the region's largest manufacturers, Wyman has successfully lobbied for a number of market-based programs to meet local air quality standards. In the process, he has emerged as one of the most powerful advocates in the halls of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which sets air quality rules for the L.A. region.
Even though his clientele includes major corporations like Hughes Electronics, Chevron, Unocal and Edison International all major polluters Wyman insists he's an environmentalist who believes market incentives are the best way to get businesses to cut pollution without sacrificing jobs and profits.
Perhaps the best example of that strategy is the RECLAIM program. Wyman is widely regarded as the godfather of the program, which requires more than 300 area factories to reduce emissions by about 7 percent a year or to buy "emission reduction credits" from companies that earned them by cutting their own pollution beyond the minimum requirement.
Wyman learned the importance of clean air at a young age. As a child, he suffered from asthma, a condition made more acute by the intense smog in Southern California. But at the same time he watched his family climb into the middle class through his father's work for an appliance manufacturer. Trying to balance these two influences has formed the foundation of Wyman's work.
Question: It seems we made really dramatic gains in our air quality in the late 1970s and through the 1980s but have sort of reached a plateau in the late 1990s. Do you see that plateau continuing? What lies ahead for our region's air quality?
Answer: The gains you're referring to have been in the area of ozone and volatile organic compounds generated by major stationary sources (factories). What's happening now is that the AQMD has been broadening its focus. It's recognizing the need for reductions from every source category, especially mobile source emissions (cars, trucks, buses, trains). Also, you're going to see further reductions in particulates, those small particles of dust and soot that get into the air. And finally, more attention is being paid to local concerns, including environmental justice issues (pollution disproportionately affecting low-income and minority neighborhoods).
Q: You say you're an environmentalist but your career has been spent trying to ease the burden on major polluters. How do you reconcile that contradiction?
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