State air quality officials, promising to ensure that business interests will not be overlooked in the push for clean air, voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a sweeping, 20-year plan to reduce smog in Southern California.
The vote by the California Air Resources Board represented a major step forward for the much heralded clean-air plan, which now has only to be approved by the federal government. More than five years in the making, the air quality plan, developed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, will force massive changes in industry and life styles across the region, affecting everything from dry cleaners to back-yard barbecues.
Already, the visionary document has attracted strong interest in Europe and Japan and has become a model for smog-reducing strategies throughout the country, including President Bush's proposed clean-air legislation. Developed to bring the smoggy region into compliance with federal laws, the plan is expected to return blue skies to the area by the year 2007.
Will Involve Industry
Members of the state air board, who had earlier refused to approve the plan because of concerns that it would cripple industry, said Tuesday that they were satisfied with new promises by local air quality officials to involve business at the earliest stages of rule making.
AQMD officials, in response to the state board's qualms, had prepared a packet outlining policies and procedures they said would guarantee that business is consulted and economic impacts weighed before regulations are adopted by the district. The AQMD includes the counties of Orange, Riverside, Los Angeles and Ventura.
"I think I've gotten a very strong sense that the district is very sensitive to the impacts on business," said the state's secretary of environmental affairs, Jananne Sharpless, chairwoman of the state board.
Sharpless, who presided over the crowded hearing room Tuesday, said she was also persuaded in part by a recent AQMD decision to extend a compliance deadline for electrical utilities. The district action, sought by the utilities but criticized by environmentalists as a sellout to business, sent a "positive signal" that the district was attempting to find a "balance" between the economic and health needs of the region, she said.
Before the board's decision to delay approval, Gov. George Deukmejian had expressed concerns to Sharpless about the impact of the plan on Southern California's economy. She said Tuesday that she was still not certain whether the governor is "totally comfortable" with the plan.
Orange County Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder, another member of the state board, said the panel's unanimous endorsement shows that a statewide consensus on the plan now exists and commits state air officials to develop new regulations for cleaner fuel and cleaner-running vehicles. Half of the reductions in smog emissions envisioned by the plan depend on regulations that must be developed and approved by the state air board.
Yorba Linda Mayor Henry W. Wedaa, also a member of the AQMD board, hailed the decision as a "significant milestone for air pollution cleanup" in Southern California. Wedaa, who went to Sacramento for Tuesday's vote, said the action sends a signal to federal officials that Californians are "serious about clean air."
"Basically the feds have not paid a lot of attention to the other significant polluters in this state--ships, trains and jets," Wedaa said. "Maybe now they will understand that we mean business and begin to help us in these other areas."
In Orange County, Wedaa said, the plan adopted by the state board sparked little opposition within industry.
The plan calls for adoption of more than 120 separate air-pollution controls between now and 2007. By the end of 1998, 40% of all cars and trucks, 70% of all commercial freight trucks and all buses are supposed to run on cleaner burning fuels, such as methanol. The plan will mean the construction of new housing closer to job centers and more ride-sharing.
Makers of such consumer products as barbecue lighter fluid, household paint and underarm deodorants will be asked to reformulate them to reduce the amount of smog-forming chemicals they emit. Regional air quality officials estimate that the plan will cost $2.6 billion a year; business counters that annual costs will reach $12 billion.
San Diego Supervisor Brian Bilbray, another member of the state board, said that although the plan will inevitably have a "severe impact" on the Southern California economy, he was voting for it anyway because failure to clean up the air would have even more dire consequences for the region.
"The buck cannot be passed from the public sector to the private sector," he said. "The private sector is being asked to carry its fair share."