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Act Locally – A Call for our State and Local Leaders to Protect Our Air Quality

L.A.’s air quality is famously poor. Photo by David Iliff. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Tomorrow, the South Coast Air Quality Management District will vote on a long-term regional clean air plan for the urban portions of four counties—Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside, and San Bernardino—under its jurisdiction. The plan as currently written contains few new mandatory measures to reduce pollution. Instead, it focuses on voluntary measures and a market-based pollution control mechanism that has been shown to be ineffective and easily gamed by the regulated entities.

Adrian Martinez, an attorney at Earthjustice working on clean air issues, wrote the following op-ed to urge the members of SCAQMD to think carefully about how their vote tomorrow will affect the region for many years to come—until 2031.

From California Governor Jerry Brown to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, California’s leaders have denounced Trump’s assault on climate change and environmental protections and made it clear that they will fight to preserve important safeguards to our health and the health of our planet.

But our state and local leaders must also act locally. What are they doing to support the right to clean air, clean water, and a clean environment here in California?

The cold hard reality is that thousands of people die prematurely each year from air pollution in the Los Angeles region alone. Hundreds of thousands of children have asthma, and they are especially vulnerable to high levels of pollution. We need our state and local leaders to go beyond the sound bites and photo opportunities, roll up their sleeves, and take real action to reduce pollution now.

On Friday, the South Coast Air Quality Management District—a thirteen-member board of local leaders and members appointed by the state—will vote on a clean air plan that will govern our region for decades to come. The current draft of this air plan does not stand up for California residents; it does not require large polluters to clean up their act. Instead, the plan focuses on voluntary approaches that have been shown to be ineffective.

We are asking state regulators to do their job by regulating the three most polluting sectors in the region: oil refineries, the ports, and warehouses.

    • Oil refineries should be removed from the voluntary “RECLAIM” program that allows them to buy their way out of cleaning up their emissions. They should be required to install pollution control equipment that the AQMD has already identified as cost-effective, readily available, and life-saving.
    • Ports must be required to achieve their fair share of pollution reductions, with specific emissions reduction targets. Further, AQMD and the ports must commit to complete a rulemaking in 2017. We cannot wait forever while the pollution continues unabated.
    • The Air District must address the immense—and growing—pollution that comes with the massive proliferation of warehouses in the region. The plan should place requirements on all new warehouse developments to make sure they implement the cleanest technologies in design and operation that will result in lower total air emissions.

These three changes would make the plan being voted on tomorrow stronger, and help clean up some of the most polluted air in the country, rather than promulgating the weak regulations currently in place. The health of seventeen million people hangs in the balance with this decision.

We need to work at the local level. The federal government is going to be a place of unprecedented handouts to fossil fuel interests, and there is no reason to take the same tact locally. We can be the counterpoint to what's happening at the federal level—but first we need our local leaders to rise to the occasion.

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