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Clean-Air Plan Could Cause Regional Pain

Many Southland residents and businesses may be affected by get-tough measures in the blueprint to meet federal deadlines.

February 26, 2003|Gary Polakovic | Times Staff Writer

Nearly all of Southern California's 16 million inhabitants and thousands of businesses could feel some pinch under the more than 50 measures identified in a new smog control plan released by Southern California air quality officials Tuesday.

The plan offers an overview of the regulations believed to be necessary if Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties are to comply with mandates of the federal Clean Air Act by the end of the decade. But air quality officials warned that even if the plan is adopted in its entirety, the region will be hard-pressed to meet federal deadlines.

"There's a tremendous job ahead of us and we need to work in unison and we need to work aggressively on all fronts if we're going to get to [clean-air] standards on time," said Barry R. Wallerstein, executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

The law requires the district, working with state and federal authorities, to produce a periodic blueprint for clean air. The last plan was unveiled six years ago, but implementation has been slow because of opposition by affected businesses, lawsuits by environmental groups and delays by regulators.

Under the new plan, consumers could feel the impacts from restrictions on the use of fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, from new smog-check requirements for cars, and from added costs for cleaner boats, all-terrain vehicles and solvent-free paints. All are sources of smoke or gases that contribute to smog.

The plan calls for more homes to be built with light-colored roofs to conserve energy. Hamburgers may cost a bit more to help offset the cost of grease traps at charbroil restaurants. One measure calls for tax breaks or other incentives for consumers who buy low-polluting cars.

Farms probably will be required to do more to control dust and emissions from livestock waste, rock-crushing plants could face new dust controls, and a number of industries could be fined $5,000 per ton if they emit more than 10 tons annually of hydrocarbons, which come from paint, fuel and solvents.

In the new plan, much of the increased cleanup burden falls on diesel engines, including trucks, ships, trains and airport equipment that have gone largely unregulated up to now.

Ships arriving at ports at Long Beach and Los Angeles could be required to pay fees to offset their emissions. Truck stops may have to be electrified to limit idling diesel engines. In one novel twist, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the AQMD are exploring a proposal to allow local smog fighters to collect fees from polluters under federal jurisdiction, such as ships, locomotives and airports, and use the funds to pay for cost-effective reductions.

The air quality district's job has become more challenging as the Bush administration has declined to move against certain forms of air pollution, such as ocean-going ships. The old diesel engines that power many of the vessels that ply the California coast are a major contributor to the region's dirty air.

"The federal government is not doing its fair share," said Tim Carmichael of the Coalition for Clean Air. "They are not regulating planes, ships, trains or military bases."

Much has changed since the last comprehensive smog plan was prepared for the region. Computer models and other studies have revealed more emissions in the air than air quality officials had identified. Cars and light trucks were found to emit 20% more hydrocarbons and 38% more nitrogen oxides, the two main ingredients of smog and haze.

In all, officials underestimated the amount of pollution by about 400 tons daily of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. Air quality officials said they must eliminate about half of all emissions across the region in seven years. The Clean Air Act requires the region to meet a health-based standard for soot and dust by 2006 and a standard for ozone by 2010. Failure to meet those dates could lead to federal sanctions, including growth controls.

"I've been working on air quality management plans for 25 years and I've never seen one that poses as significant a challenge as this one," Wallerstein said.

Ozone and microscopic particle pollution from dust and soot are the two most intractable pollutants in the region. They are linked to a wide range of health problems.

Although there is more smog than previously realized, air quality across the region has steadily improved over the years. Ozone and particulate pollution levels are way down and central Los Angeles could meet the carbon monoxide standard for the first time this winter.

The public can comment on the draft air quality management plan at six workshops scheduled across the region in the weeks ahead, beginning in Van Nuys on Tuesday and Diamond Bar on Wednesday.

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