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AQMD Studying Far-Reaching New Smog Controls

October 28, 1987|LOUIS SAHAGUN | Times Staff Writer

Even as it reported that smog this season--aided by favorable weather conditions--was lower than ever, South Coast Air Quality Management District officials said Tuesday that sweeping new measures may soon be imposed in the war against air pollution that would have broad impact on life in the Southland.

The four-county air pollution district, whose authority has been recently strengthened by the Legislature, is considering proposals ranging from a likely requirement that employers of more than 100 workers institute car-pooling programs to more controversial and less certain "development fees" on builders of new housing tracts, shopping centers, stadiums and other sources of additional traffic.

Essentially, the AQMD is moving beyond controlling industrial pollution sources and combustion-engine vehicles to influencing the way people live, and the way that new development will occur throughout its jurisdiction.

"Currently we have the authority to regulate stationary sources and auto tailpipes," said Eugene Fisher, an AQMD spokesman, after a press conference, "but not movements of people and sources of pollution related to life style--that's what's coming."

Housing Development Curbs

The air district is considering, for example, rules to curb the proliferation of housing developments in outlying areas that can result in long, pollution-producing drives to and from jobs in distant cities. "That kind of development cannot go on," said AQMD Executive Director James Lents.

"The whole thing we're interested in is creating a situation where people do less driving to live their lives," Lents said. "It's a very new area for us . . . and one that will touch every aspect of life in the Los Angeles Basin."

"We have to look at every activity that causes pollution--and everybody will have to pull their weight," added Curt Coleman, AQMD general counsel. "There aren't any sacred cows."

Coleman anticipates that the AQMD's new direction is almost certain to draw criticism and opposition. "If nothing else, it will see what quality of air people really want," he said. "It'll make life more expensive, no doubt about that."

As a first step toward achieving its new goals, the AQMD this week will hold public hearings on a proposal to require that an estimated 4,000 Southland employers institute ride-sharing programs, and another to end the trading of so-called air pollution credits among industrial developers.

The AQMD's board of directors will later review these proposals and determine whether they should be adopted. Once approved, violators could face penalties, including a maximum fine of up to $25,000 per day, officials said.

Air district officials aim to remove up to 5% of the number of vehicles now on the road during the peak traffic hours of 6 to 10 a.m. through enforced ride-sharing programs, officials said.

If approved, the AQMD would require that employers provide incentives to their employers to commute to work in buses and car pools--including free bus passes, preferential parking for car pools or cash bonuses for ride-sharers. These employers would be expected to review and update their ride-sharing plans annually.

As it stands, the average ridership per vehicle in the South Coast area is 1.1, officials said. The proposal would raise that figure to from 1.5 to 1.6 persons per vehicle.

Under its newly expanded authority, the AQMD may also adopt rules that would ban trucks from freeways during hours of peak air pollution levels, and may order that public and commercial vehicle fleets switch to "clean" fuels, such as methanol.

The second proposal to be considered this week would abolish the controversial "exchange-of-credits" system. This procedure allows new industry to literally buy the right to pollute the air by purchasing "smog credits" from companies elsewhere along the South Coast that have closed or have installed equipment to reduce their own emissions, officials said. This proposal is expected to be submitted to the AQMD board for adoption in March, 1988, officials said.

"It's a very inefficient system," Coleman said. "We have literally hundreds of people running around looking for someone going out of business and paying large sums of money for their credits."

Profit in the Credits

In some cases, Coleman said, large industrial firms are actually "living off their own emission credits earned from shutting down a portion of their own facility years before."

The proposal would do away with credits for "shutdowns," officials said. It would also establish a "new source-siting allowance," which would be handled by the AQMD and would make credits available for new or modified industrial operations. The percentage of credits available in this AQMD "bank" would depend on the air board's meeting annual pollution-reduction goals, officials said.

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