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Environmentalists Aren't Happy With South Coast AQMD's New Pollution Plan

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The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) is holding a meeting Friday concerning its new pollution reduction plan, which the agency is expected to approve, KPCC reports. What's significant in the proposal is that facilities will, at first, be able to police themselves, so long as their goals fall within certain enforceable standards. This has drawn criticism from environmentalists, who worry that a lack of federal oversight in our current administration may not sufficiently curb pollution. According to the L.A. Times, this new plan aims to work with facilities including warehouses, ports and rail yards as opposed to imposing blanket regulations. If those facilities do not meet certain standards after a year, regulators will begin imposing stricter rules. Oil refineries may see stricter regulations still.

"We’re not shying away from a fight with the ports,” Philip Fine, the air district’s deputy executive officer, told the Times. “What we’re saying is we think we can get more and faster emission reductions by bringing everyone to the table…. We can achieve more, at least starting out, in a collaborative approach.”

AQMD is responsible for ensuring clean air in the South Coast Air Basin, which accounts for Orange County and non-desert areas in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. As stated in the Clean Air Act, any area that is not currently at National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) must put in place a plan to improve air quality.

Sierra Club Press Secretary Shawn Dhanak tells LAist that the region has never been in full-compliance with the Clean Air Act, and thousands of people are affected or die each year in Southern California as a result of pollution. According to CBS Los Angeles, researchers were able to attribute 1,341 deaths per year in the Los Angeles area alone to air pollution. An additional 3,000 people in the Los Angeles area suffer from diseases related to pollution.

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"The AQMD is required to develop a plan for how it's going to achieve safe standards under the Clean Air Act because there have been repeated failures," Dhanak said. "So, this plan is very important, and it's one of the most important in decades, arguably."

However, Dhanak doesn't believe that the incentives-heavy plan is strict enough to hold polluters accountable.

"The AQMD is basically saying that they're going to give [facilities] incentives to clean up, and those are simply handing money to promote voluntary cuts. Well, how are they going to pay for that? They are proposing taxes on the very people who are burdened by air pollution," Dhanak said.

David Pettit, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, echoed similar sentiments in an interview with KPCC in November. "Conceptually, we’re taking public money to pay for industry to clean up its own mess. In my view, industry should pay to clean up its own mess. We, the taxpayers, should not," he said.

At one point, AQMD had proposed raising registration fees for drivers in L.A., Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties by $30, which would generate $300 million.

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Dhanak said it is often low-income communities of color, including South L.A. and Watts, that are most negatively affected by polluters. In 2014, the Washington Post cited studies dating back as far as the 1970s that indicated the same grim truth. One study conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota indicated that people of color are exposed to 38 percent higher levels of outdoor nitrogen dioxide than white people.

Dhanak is present at a rally for clean air today at South Coast AQMD headquarters in Diamond Bar. He hopes that AQMD board members will "see that the people want polluters to be held accountable and pay for the cleanup."

"We think polluters should clean up, as required by law, and they should pay for that clean up," he said. One example of this would be requiring warehouses and similar facilities to start using or encouraging more clean, zero emission vehicles to reduce mobile source pollution. Mobile source pollution is exactly that: pollution caused by trucks or other vehicles that go from place to place.

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