(March 18, 2007) -- LBReport.com has learned that the CA Air Resources Board -- the same state agency which quietly negotiated a controversial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with CA railroads, then refused to rescind it despite pleas from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) that the MOU could undercut tougher local clean air rules -- is now quietly asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a five year delay -- until the year 2020 -- by which to meet federal standards for reducing health-affecting ultrafine PM2.5 particle pollution.
In a letter obtained by LBReport.com, dated March 12 and addressed to DC-based EPA Ass't Administrator Bill Wehrum, CARB Executive Officer Katherine Witherspoon writes:
As you know, by April 2008, California must prepare a State Implementation Plan (SIP) to demonstrate attainment of the annual ambient air quality for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the South Coast Air Basin and San Joaquin Valley...The South Coast Air Basin faces the biggest challenge -- the annual average is 50% above the standard. And, the nation's greatest population exposure to high PM2.5 levels occurs in this region.
California is also unique in that the solution to the PM2.5 problem relies in large part on reducing emissions from legacy mobile source fleets of diesel engines -- trucks, locomotives, ships, and construction and farm equipment. The Air Resources Board's (ARB) 2007 proposed SIP strategy includes multiple measures to reduce emissions from these fleets. These measures will require a combination of engine retrofits, where available, and replacement of engines, equipment and vehicles. California businesses will be called upon to invest several billion dollars in cleaner technology.
Despite this comprehensive effort to meet the PM2.5 standard, there is a substantial shortfall in emission reductions needed for attainment by 2015. One of the constraints is the timing of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) new diesel engine standards -- the phase in between 2010 and 2017 comes too late. Based on current SIP emission reduction targets, California will need the full benefits of these new engine standards to meet PM2.5 and ozone standards. The South Coast Air Basin and San Joaquin Valley will need to bump to the "extreme" ozone classification to obtain the necessary time. We need to pursue the option of additional time to meet the PM2.5 standard as well.
ARB believes that U.S. EPA has the ability to administratively revisit the 2015 deadline. The mechanism would be use of Clean Air Act Subpart 4 provisions, which allow for up to 15 years to meet the standard. Starting from the date of U.S> EPA's 2005 non-attainment findings, this would give the region until 2020 to meet the standard. California and the rest of the nation have been applying Subpart 4 requirements for particulate matter of 10 microns or less since 1990. U.S. EPA should pursue this option as part of the implementation guidance under development for the PM2.5 standard.
While it is necessary to make this request based on the current attainment analysis, it is important to recognize that a large portion of the air basin is projected to reach attainment by 2015. We will continue our technical efforts to better understand what it will take to reach full attainment throughout the region and identify further strategies that would accelerate progress...
s/ Catherine Witherspoon
The CARB letter prompted South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein to fire off an email, obtained by LBReport.com, calling CARB staff's action "unprecedented" and charging that it "usurps the public process before our [AQMD] Governing Board, as well as the CARB Governing Board, and was done without any public input whatsoever."
Dr. Wallertsein's email continues:
The position taken in this letter has enormous consequences for public health, with thousands of premature deaths per year in the South Coast Air Basin just due to particulate pollution. In addition, EPA is still in a public comment period for proposed marine and locomotive diesel emissions standards. Rather than citing the inadequacy of federal regulations as a reason to extend clean air deadlines, the first response should be for federal and state governments to tighten standards.
The Coalition for Clean Air (a non-government clean air advocacy group) describes particulate pollution and PM2.5 in pertinent part as follows on its web site:
...Fine size particles, or PM2.5, are those particles less than or equal to 2.5 microns in diameter...The most dangerous aspect of PM pollution from diesel vehicles is the hundreds of different chemicals that are adsorbed to the particle. Exposure to PM pollution has been associated with respiratory and cardiac problems, infections, asthma attacks, lung cancer and decreased life expectancy. The World Health Organization has estimated that 500,000 premature deaths each year may be associated with PM pollution.
Fine particulate air pollution (<2.5 microns) is thought to be more dangerous because of its ability to penetrate deeper into lung tissue. A recent study found that even a small increase in PM2.5 can result in a significant increase in mortality. In fact, The American Lung Association believes that PM2.5 represents the most serious threat to our health. Segments of the population that are more susceptible to PM pollution include children, athletes, senior citizens, and people with pre-existing respiratory problems.
CARB's staff action comes just weeks before the SCAQMD Board -- on which LB Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga is a voting boardmember -- is scheduled to vote on whether to support SB 974 recently introduced by State Senator Alan Lowenthal (D., LB-SP-PV), which his office calls a "Port Investment" bill.
SB 974 would use revenue from a cargo container fee to expand port-related infrastructure capacity...while leaving significant clean air oversight to CARB. The bill relegates SCAQMD to a consultative role in preparing a "list of projects that reduce air pollution" which "shall be consistent with" an April 2006 Emission reduction Plan and "designed to reduce air pollution...in order to reach federal air quality attainment standards and to meet the ERP's goals for 2010, 2015, and 2020."
The bill would require CARB only to "consult" with SCAQMD...along with the Gateway Council of Governments (in which the Ports of LB and L.A. are members) and separately with the Ports of LB and L.A. It would also require CARB to work with SCAQMD as well as the Ports of LB and L.A. "to ensure that projects within the San Pedro Bay Clean Air Action Plan are completed or implemented" and would allow CARB to provide funding to the district or the ports in order to achieve the "goals" of the "Clean Air Action Plan."
Some have argued in separate venues that such projects include a proposed "Southern California International Gateway" (SCIG) project, sought by port and rail interests, which would negatively impact West Long Beach residents.
Meanwhile, LB Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal and Councilman Patrick O'Donnell have jointly agendized an item for the March 20 City Council meeting that would put the City of LB on record supporting Sen. Lowenthal's "Port Investment" bill SB 974.
At the same time, as reported exclusively to date by LBReport.com, Sen,. Lowenthal has failed to reintroduce legislation (opposed by port interests and blocked in August 2006 by Assembly Democrat leaders) to require "no net increase" in port-related air pollution with port growth. Support for such legislation had been official City of LB policy via at least three separately voted actions of the LB City Council...yet its absence isn't mentioned in the item agendized by Vice Mayor Lowenthal and Councilman O'Donnell (the latter heading the Council's State Legislation Committee).
On March 9, a committee of the SCAQMD governing board heard AQMD staff urge amendments to Senator Lowenthal's "Port Investment" bill, taking a position of support in principle but reserving support pending those amendments.
A March 20 vote by the LB City Council to endorse Sen. Lowenthal's bill as it stands would likely undercut the ability of SCAQMD Boardmember/Councilwoman Reyes Uranga to urge toughening the legislation...and might make it harder to argue in the future against the SCIG project (in which Reyes Uranga's constituents would be among the most detrimentally impacted).
Council silence on the lack of "no net increase" legislation could also be interpreted to indicate that LB Councilmembers have tacitly abandoned their prior position that LB constituents deserve enforceable, statutory protection to ensure port growth doesn't worsen net port pollution. Sen. Lowenthal's SB 974 relies largely on Port or agency adopted "plans" which can subsequently be waived in much the same way as CARB seeks a waiver regarding health-affecting PM2.5.
Sen. Lowenthal had previously called his "no net increase" bill the most important legislation he'd introduced in all his years in the state legislature. In July 2006, Sen. Lowenthal told a panel of Port, EPA, CARB and SCAQMD officials (meeting in the LB City Council Chamber) that the "no net increase" legislation needed to be part of the LB/LA Ports' "Clean Air Action Plan" which advocates further Port infrastructure growth and capacity expansion.
In late November 2006, after urging voters to pass Prop 1B bond measure in November (which gave the Ports billions for infrastructure expansion), Sen. Lowenthal indicated (when pressed by local activist Bry Myown at a CSULB conference on goods movement) that he'd reintroduce the "no net increase" bill in 2007.
But on Feb. 23, 2007 Sen. Lowenthal quietly failed to meet the deadline for introducing a stand-alone "no net increase" bill as new legislation. (LBReport.com is to our knowledge the only LB media outlet to report this to date.) "No net increase" verbiage could added to another bill, but in an emailed statement on Feb. 27, Sen. Lowenthal told LBReport.com:
Sen. Lowenthal: While I believe the original goals of my "no net increase" bill were laudable at the time, I no longer believe it is sufficient; we need to go further than maintaining the status quo. As Chair of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and as the author of the bills that will implement the goods movement and emissions improvement portion of Proposition 1B, SB 9 and SB 19, I fully intend to include accountability measures in these bills that will require reductions in all types of
harmful emissions. I felt, after long deliberation, that a re-introduction of a "no net increase" bill would set conflicting standards as we try to achieve accountable, measurable reductions in pollution related to port activities. I remain more committed than ever to holding the ports accountable in regards to reducing harmful emissions related to goods movement.
Sen. Lowenthal's "Port Investment Bill" declares that the legislature finds that cleaner air will result as a by-product of port infrastructure development that promotes greater efficiency in cargo movement, a theory commonly called "cleaner air, faster freight" supported by Port-related interests. Critics say this plausible sounding assumption isn't sufficiently proven and doesn't factor-in the net result of growth invited by the new infrastructure. (A "plan" to reduce pollution from a source by [figures for illustration only] 50% while new infrastructure invites the "reduced" source to double (increase by 100%) means more net pollution, not less.)
Although new infrastructure and its effects would be permanent, clean air "plans" can be changed, eased, waived or deemed infeasible by government agencies or legislative bodies...which is what CARB's staff is now proposing regarding PM2.5
Officials of the Ports of LB and L.A. have also publicly indicated that they consider their "Clean Air Action Plan" an evolving document that's subject to change and revision.
Vice Mayor Lowenthal is expected to preside in the absence of vacation Mayor Bob Foster at the March 20 City Council meeting...during which her co-agendized item proposing to endorse Sen. Lowenthal's Port Investment bill is scheduled.