(Oct. 28, 2005) -- Despite testimony lasting into the night that included stinging criticism by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), clean air advocates, state and local lawmakers and incensed residents from LB to Riverside, CARB's governing board refused to rescind a controversial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) secretly negotiated and agreed to by CARB staff with CA's two major railroads (BNSF and UP).
At 10:45 p.m. on Oct. 27, CARB's non-elected governing board voted to let the RR MOU continue while CARB staff meets with the RRs and returns in January 2006 with a report to CARB's board "clarifying" -- but not renegotiating -- some of the more heavily criticized parts of the agreement.
The issue, which has pitted the southland's clean air agency (SCAQMD) against a statewide clean air body (CARB), capped a marathon hearing at CARB's El Monte HQ that began at 2:30 p.m.
SCAQMD (again) called CARB's MOU counterproductive and potentially harmful to clean air efforts...and multiple residents (again) blasted RR pollution resulting from Port-related "goods movement" activities. RR industry reps (again) countered that they are taking steps to reduce their emissions...and politely but firmly indicated an unwillingness to renegotiate parts of the MOU.
RR reps and CARB staff urged continued implementation of the MOU as the best way to achieve prompt emission reductions without legislation, agency rulemaking or potential litigation. One RR industry rep brought a letter signed by 24 state lawmakers (20 Republicans, 4 Democrats) that he said supported the MOU. [LBReport.com plans to get a copy of that letter and post it and its signers' names publicly.] Among those also supporting the MOU were the L.A. Chamber of Commerce and the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.
SCAQMD officials, including Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein, urged the MOU be scrapped, charging it undermines tougher AQMD standards by substituting weaker statewide requirements that fail to reflect the major local impacts of the LB/LA Ports. RR reps supported CARB's statewide approach, calling the alternative a patchwork of regulations with which they couldn't comply.
Among those also criticizing the MOU were (not a complete list) State Senator Alan Lowenthal (charging it would have a chilling effect on clean air legislation), LB Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga, WLB activist John Cross, the Coalition for Clean Air, local chapters of the American Lung Association, Natural Resources, the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, Communities for a Better Environment and the Natural Resources Defense Council (which has previously questioned whether the MOU complies with the CA Environmental Quality Act and the CA Administrative Procedure Act.)
The RR MOU has been previously opposed in voted resolutions adopted by the LB City Council and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
Although some CARB boardmembers indicated a reluctance to support the MOU at present, none dissented from letting it continue -- effectively spurning pleas by AQMD and critics.
In a revelation resulting from a question by SCAQMD board member/Chino Mayor Dennis Yates, CARB acting board chair Barbara Riordan admitted that CARB boardmembers were informed by CARB staff about then-ongoing secret negotiations between the RRs and the agency on the MOU. Mayor Yates, who has previously called for firing CARB Executive Officer Catherine Witherspoon over the MOU, asked if CARB's governing board knew about staff's negotiation of the MOU. Ms. Riordan (presiding after the CA Senate refused to confirm Gov. Schwarzenegger's choice of Cindy Tuck as board chair) replied that CARB staff had told board members via a memo in or about Feb. 2005 about the MOU...producing what sounded like audience gasps from some in the audience on the webcast audio.
Earlier, Penny Newman of the Mira Loma/Riverside area Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice had charged that CARB staff had betrayed residents by meeting with members of her group and others encouraging their activities while secretly using their actions as leverage to cut a deal with the railroads.
Shortly before the CARB board vote, CARB Executive Officer Catherine Witherspoon expressed regret about the opposition that followed public release of CARB's MOU...but defended the actions of CARB staff and the resulting agreement.
Ms. Witherspoon also indicated the Schwarzenegger administration is considering whether to adopt an LAX-modeled approach to dealing with "goods movement" impacts on residents. She indicated discussion on the matter was expected at a publicly agendized coming meeting on a forthcoming administration "goods movement" policy...which some activists have separately criticized for not allowing for meaningful public input.