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AQMD Delays Decision on 20-Year Smog Plan : Environment: Panel agrees to analyze Riordan's less stringent proposal, hoping to reach a conclusion by Sept. 9.

August 13, 1994|MARLA CONE | TIMES ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER

Under fire from all directions, Southern California's air quality board unanimously postponed a decision Friday on a new 20-year smog plan so that a last-minute proposal by Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan can be analyzed by a team of experts.

To accommodate Riordan's concerns, the South Coast Air Quality Management District board created a team of atmospheric chemists and pollution analysts and regulators to analyze the city's proposal. The board's goal--although considered unlikely--is to reach a conclusion on the plan's viability by the time the panel convenes again Sept. 9 to adopt a clean-air plan.

The delay came after several months of public debate over the AQMD's updated strategy for achieving clean air and only three months before a federal deadline faced by the agency and the state Air Resources Board for a completed and approved plan.

Riordan's appearance at Friday's session was believed to be the first time a Los Angeles mayor has commented on smog issues before the regional board.

The mayor called air quality planning the single most important factor affecting Southern California's economy, but emphasized that he is not trying to avoid clean air mandates. Instead, he said, he wants to spend more time looking for more economical ways of achieving them.

"Put most simply, Los Angeles wants clean air and good jobs," Riordan said. "I have heard it said that I am asking for a delay in cleaning up our air. I am not. I repeat, I am not. . . . I believe the plan advanced by the city of Los Angeles will clean up our air faster than any of the other plans under consideration."

Because the cost of cleaning the nation's most polluted air is steep and the impact on society is dramatic, the AQMD has struggled for years to find ways of spreading the economic burden fairly among all industries, motorists and consumers. But the latest effort drew intense criticism Friday from virtually every sector of the economy as well as from environmentalists.

The plan, designed to meet federal and state health standards in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties by 2010, features more than 100 proposed transportation and industrial measures. State law requires an updated plan every three years.

With Riordan's alternative proposal--which emerged in detail this week--the AQMD would move less aggressively in reducing nitrogen oxides, which contribute to ozone and particulates, the two most severe types of pollution that dirty the Southland's air.

Under the mayor's plan, an array of long-term measures using advanced technology to reduce emissions from cars, trucks and other mobile sources would be scrapped. His plan also proposes alternatives for cleaning up particulates that include more stringent controls on dairy farm manure in San Bernardino County and on "fugitive dust" that blows off rural fields and lots.

Those proposals immediately triggered negative reactions from officials in the Inland Empire, who believe Los Angeles is trying to shift much of the burden for a cleanup to their region.

AQMD staff members say Riordan's proposal would violate state law and endanger public health by delaying for several years a viable plan for cleaning up particulates, which are the tiny pieces of soot and dust that can lodge in lungs and cause respiratory disease.

Riordan's aides say the AQMD does not yet have a workable plan for particulates, so public health would not be jeopardized by eliminating many long-term measures and searching for less costly and more effective ones.

Even though they agreed to review it, many board members view the mayor's plan with skepticism because the AQMD and National Academy of Sciences rejected similar ideas in the late 1980s.

But Riordan's plan got a boost Friday when James Boyd, executive officer of the state Air Resources Board, said he would recommend that his panel reject the AQMD plan because it too optimistically assumes that 84% of nitrogen oxides from cars, trucks, trains and other mobile sources can be eliminated by 2010.

Boyd said the AQMD plan sets an unnecessary and unfeasible target, echoing one of the major criticisms made by the mayor's office.

Boyd's comments are considered crucial to the success of the plan, because the Air Resources Board has veto power over it. Because the AQMD board faces logistic problems in resolving the lingering issues in a month, many officials believe the deadline will be missed by at least several months.

Riordan said developing an economically reasonable plan is so vital to California that it is worth the risk of violating the deadline set by Congress.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, the AQMD and state air board have until Nov. 15 to submit a final plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that outlines how the region will meet health standards for ozone, the main ingredient of smog. If the deadline is missed, the EPA could impose sanctions next year, including a freeze on federal highway funds and restrictions on new businesses that pollute.

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