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State Smog Plan Offered; Wilson Asks Cost Study

October 11, 1994|MARLA CONE | TIMES ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER

Gov. Pete Wilson has requested an economic analysis that could delay a sweeping new plan crafted by his air quality staff to clean up California's smog by reducing emissions from cars, diesel trucks, consumer products, pesticides and other pollution sources.

The proposed clean air plan, which began arriving Monday on the desks of business leaders, environmentalists and local officials, is the vision of the state Air Resources Board's staff on how California would meet a federal mandate to reduce smog from San Diego to Sacramento over the next 15 years.

Debate over the highly charged clean air issue was scheduled to climax in the final days before California voters cast their ballots for governor. The air board set its public hearing and vote on the plan for Nov. 9 and 10--immediately after the election--in order to comply with a Nov. 15 deadline set by Congress.

But Wilson intervened after receiving a written copy of the plan by urging the board's chairwoman to order a full economic report on the proposals--even if it means California will miss Congress' deadline.

The clean air plan "absolutely must be subjected to an independent, outside economic analysis," the governor wrote in a letter to ARB Chairwoman Jacqueline Schafer dated Saturday. "The hard-working men and women of California--whose jobs are on the line--deserve nothing less.

"I realize that undertaking a thorough economic review may cause a slight delay in delivering a complete (plan) to the federal government by Nov. 15," he wrote, adding: "It is essential that you take the time necessary to assure that our state air plan not only protects California's public health and air quality but also protects California jobs."

Wilson's request came after more than 100 business organizations in California, including the state Chamber of Commerce and the Western States Petroleum Assn., called for his Administration to analyze the cost and job impact of the staff's proposals as well as alternatives.

Under the federal Clean Air Act passed by Congress in 1990, California must submit an approved smog plan by Nov. 15 or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is required to start the process of imposing economic sanctions, including a freeze on federal highway funds disbursed to the state. In reality, the EPA has until mid-January to reply and sanctions would take a year or longer to go into effect.

Some environmentalists were concerned Monday when they learned of Wilson's request from The Times because the ARB staff has been working on the plan for months.

"It is very disturbing when the executive of the state with the worst air quality in the nation is asking his air quality staff to delay compliance with federal air quality law," said Cliff Gladstein, president of the Coalition for Clean Air, based in Santa Monica. "It seems to reflect a pattern on his part. All this past year he has been willing to put off creating sound air quality policy in order to avoid deadlines. It is troubling."

Gladstein said requiring economic assessments is "part and parcel of the anti-environmental movement's strategy to undermine environmental laws." The vote, he said, was "conveniently placed" after the election, adding that improved air quality is being "held hostage by statewide politics."

California business leaders, however, expressed concern about what they called the "fast-track" schedule of the air board because details of the plan were not available to most businesses until Monday.

"Thirty days and one public hearing on a plan that will dictate how my company operates in California for the next 15 years is ridiculous," Walt Keeney, president of Flour Transport, based in Maywood, said in a statement.

The ARB staff estimates that the costs of state-imposed proposals would reach $1.1 billion a year statewide. That does not include additional costly rules that would be imposed by local air districts or the federal government. In the Los Angeles Basin alone, the South Coast Air Quality Management District estimated the cost of smog cleanup regulations at over $5 billion a year, much of that for modifying the Southland's transportation system.

All sides agree that a state-designed air plan is crucial since it would relieve California of even-stricter requirements proposed by the Clinton Administration's EPA. Wilson called the federal plan "irresponsible and devastating."

But the ARB staff's proposed alternative drew criticism from environmentalists, who wanted quicker implementation and more stringent rules, and from business leaders, who called it unrealistically stringent.

Included in the ARB staff proposals is a more aggressive mandate for California cars to run on alternative fuels, a reduction in fumes from aerosol paints and other consumer products such as deodorants and beauty supplies, and scrapping programs and financial incentives for removing old vehicles from the roads.

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