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AQMD Updates Blueprint to Curb Pollution

'We are drowning in ozone, and there is no relief in sight,' says a board member, as the agency bemoans an inability to do more.

August 02, 2003|Miguel Bustillo | Times Staff Writer

Southern California's smog-fighting agency approved a new air pollution plan Friday despite objections from environmentalists, who said it would doom the region to "decades of smog."

The board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District -- which is charged with cleaning the air breathed by 16 million people in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties -- unanimously passed the updated blueprint at a meeting in Diamond Bar.

The new plan includes relatively few additional measures to combat Southern California's smog problem, which appears to be getting worse after years of progress. Instead, the plan calls on state and federal authorities to take greater action to reduce the region's dirty air, and contains a list of more than 30 ways they could do so. The pollution sources in need of greater regulation, according to the district, include planes, trains, automobiles and cargo ships.

The proposal outlines local regulatory solutions for only one-fifth of the air pollution the district still needs to cut to meet a federal clean air mandate by 2010. District officials say they have authority over only one-fifth of the region's air pollution sources, primarily local industry.

By approving the admittedly incomplete plan Friday, district board members hoped to send a political message to the California Air Resources Board and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Give us greater authority to fix the pollution problem or do something about it.

"We are drowning in ozone, and there is no relief in sight," said board member Jane Carney, mentioning the main component of smog.

Although environmentalists agreed with the district that the state and federal governments need to do more, they had urged rejection of the plan.

They said the list of recommendations carries no legal weight, and argued that a protest vote would place pressure on state and federal officials to respond with action. But board members rejected that argument, saying a delay would accomplish nothing.

State and federal regulators clearly got the message; they sent delegates to the local hearing and promised to continue cooperating on solutions to Southern California's unhealthy air.

"With respect to the gauntlet being thrown down before the Air Resources Board, I am here to tell you we accept the challenge," the state board's executive director, Catherine Witherspoon, told the local officials.

The EPA's representative, Jack Broadbent, pledged cooperation, but he predicted that his agency probably would reject the state's call to take on added responsibility -- a response that did not satisfy the district board.

"Four years from now, with all the people moving into this area, we are going to be in serious trouble," said board member Hal Bernson, a former Los Angeles city councilman.

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