Multiple Local Officials & Members of Public Blast CA Air Resources Board's "Memorandum of Understanding" With RRs
Introduction / Perspective
(September 14, 2005, updated) -- LBReport.com posts below extended audio excerpts of public testimony that we consider newsworthy at a meeting that was extraordinary.
In late June 2005, CA Air Resources Board (CARB) staff -- without public input or a vote of CARB's governing board -- announced that it had entered into a "Memorandum of Understanding" (a contract) with CA's major railroads (Union Pacific and BNSF) to take measures that CARB and the RRs said would produce emission reductions quickly and avoid challenges to agency regulations or state legislation.
Reaction was swift. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) blasted the MOU, charging it undermined tougher local and regional AQMD standards with statewide standards that don't reflect the major local impacts of the LB/LA Ports. AQMD also charged (and CARB staff denied) that the MOU includes a "poison pill" that lets railroads walk away from tough AQMD enforcement actions by threatening to back out of the entire statewide MOU.
In late June, the City of LB also went on record (via a letter from Mayor Beverly O'Neill) criticizing the MOU and the process used to reach it. "This MOU appears to have been developed without public participation or involvement," the Mayor wrote, adding:
With our support, the State Legislature, local air districts and other entities have been working on this issue to address significant air quality concerns about railroad operations for some time. The proposed MOU erodes the ability of local governments and local agencies to adopt or enforce any air quality requirements pertaining to the MOU.
In July, after blistering AQMD staff, boardmember and public criticism of the MOU (
LBReport.com coverage linked below), the AQMD governing board voted unanimously to urge that CARB hold a hearing on the MOU before implementing it.
Grassroots activists and several state lawmakers were especially incensed that the MOU could undermine advancing state legislation that could give AQMD greater ability to deal with railroad pollution. Adding fuel to the fire: CARB has cited its MOU process in opposing the legislation. Others said the MOU threatens L.A.'s "No Net Increase" Task Force recommendations on capping Port of L.A.-related emissions (which includes measures directed at railroads).
Facing criticism on multiple fronts, CARB staff suggested to the agency's governing board in July that the agency hold two "public consultation" meetings (one in northern CA, the other in southern CA) to "explain" the MOU and allow public input, followed by a full CARB governing board meeting in September (in the L.A. area) at which CARB's governing board would decide what, if anything, to do about the MOU.
The southern CA "public consultation" meeting was held on August 31 in the City of Commerce. For this otherwise obscure meeting, about 300 people showed up. After CARB staff presented its views on the MOU, testimony flowed from public officials -- state legislators, the AQMD (three senior staffers, two AQMD boardmembers personally and another represented by his staffer), the Chief of Staff to LB Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal, multiple local elected officials and multiple neighborhood groups from L.A. County areas from the City of Commerce to LB...and including LB Wrigley Association President Joan Greenwood.
In addition, a group of residents arrived by bus from the Mira Loma area in the Inland Empire, organized by the Center for Community Action in Riverside. Testimony by the group's Executive Director, Penny Newman, drew the loudest applause of any of the speakers.
Virtually every public speaker -- except five that we heard (if there were others, we missed them) -- opposed the MOU and/or the way CARB entered into it. The five we heard supporting the MOU were from the Union Pacific and BNSF railroads, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association...and (the final speaker of the night) the Asssociation of American Railroads.
On October 27 [changed from September 22] the CA Air Resources Board is scheduled to hold a special meeting in El Monte (Air Resources Board Auditorium), 9530 Telstar Avenue, El Monte) devoted exclusively to the MOU...at which time the Board will decide what, if anything, to do about MOU.
As agendized, the item indicates, "After hearing all public comments, the Board may consider a number of options regarding the Agreement, including but not limited to expressing support for the Agreement, directing the Executive Officer to engage in further negotiations with the railroads to achieve specified modifications and then report back to the Board for potential ratification, or voting to rescind the Agreement."
Aug. 2005: Councilwoman Reyes Uranga Submits Letter To CA Air Resources Bd. Opposing Its MOU With RRs In Present Form, Prefers Legislation And Regs, Or Alternatively MOU Modifications With Public Participation
July, 2005: In Depth: CA Air Resources Bd. Schedules Sept. Hearing To Discuss Controversial RR MOU
July, 2005: In Depth w/ Extended Audio Coverage: AQMD Governing Board Strongly Criticizes CA Air Resource Bd. MOU With Railroads, Charges It Undermines Regional & Local Clean Air Efforts; LB Mayor O'Neill Puts LB On Record Opposing MOU and Supporting Hearing
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