By HOWARD FINE
Major L.A.-area refineries and aerospace plants could be forced to install costly pollution control equipment if a controversial car-scrapping program is eliminated by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
The program allows refineries and other big polluters to buy smog-belching, pre-1982 cars at $500 to $700 apiece and scrap them. The refineries then receive emission reduction credits that exempt them from installing millions of dollars worth of vapor recovery equipment on their smokestacks.
The program was intended to remove so-called “gross-polluters” from the road, thereby reducing the total amount of emissions going into the air. But it came under fire last month as one of the chief inspectors went public with allegations that some of the cars being turned in were so decrepit that they could barely be driven raising questions over how much the cars were being used.
The AQMD based its calculations for emission credits on the assumption that each car turned in could have been driven another three years.
As a result of the allegations, the AQMD Governing Board has ordered a review of the entire car-scrapping program.
AQMD Governing Board Chairman William Burke said it is too early to predict what will happen in advance of that review.
“What we need now is more information,” Burke said. “I don’t think there is any stampede at this point to dump the program.”
Even so, eliminating the program is an option, said AQMD spokesman Tom Eichhorn.
“It is possible that the governing board may eliminate the program entirely. If that happens, business would regret losing the flexibility this program has offered,” Eichhorn said.
Since the program was set up in 1993, Chevron USA Products Co. has scrapped 4,180 cars to receive credits for its El Segundo facilities, according to AQMD records. Ultramar Inc. has scrapped 169 cars for credits at its two local facilities, while Atlantic Richfield Co.’s Wilmington refinery has scrapped 22 cars.
One local aerospace company, Composite Structures Inc., has scrapped 100 cars so that it could continue to use a coating required by the military.
Also, hundreds of other companies in the Los Angeles basin are indirect users of the car-scrapping program. They have chosen to pay $60 per employee each year into a special AQMD fund instead of providing carpooling incentives to their employees. Most of the money in that AQMD fund has gone to car-scrapping.
Among the companies paying into the fund are: Fox Television Studios in Los Angeles, Viewsonic Corp. in Walnut, Costco/Price Club in Norwalk, the Industry Hills Sheraton Resort Hotel in the City of Industry and Parsons Corp. in Pasadena.
Chevron’s El Segundo refinery used the car-scrapping program in 1993 and 1994 in place of installing some vapor recovery equipment on one of its offshore facilities, government and public affairs manager Rod Spackman said. It proved to be a small, but vital, portion of Chevron’s environmental compliance, he said.
The car-scrapping program along with the AQMD’s other credit-based programs like Reclaim have long been under attack from environmental groups that claim they sacrifice the health of residents near highly polluting refineries and plants.