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SoCal Air Regulators Weaken Smog Restrictions

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There’s drama afoot in the South Coast Air Quality Management District. On Friday, the AQMD’s board voted to forcefully remove its longtime chair Barry Wallerstein, and clarify new, looser air-quality regulation, according to the L.A. Times.

For the 17 million people who live in the country’s smoggiest region, Friday’s shakeup translates to fewer restrictions and set goals for major polluters like oil refineries. This all happened a month after a partisan shift switched the AQMD from a partisan-balanced to a majority Republican agency.

Voting on Friday in a closed-door session, the board’s Republicans justified their actions saying Southern California’s air quality restrictions were too restrictive on the region’s industrial needs. Dwight Robinson, the AQMD board’s newest Republican member voted in last month, and who replacing Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, a Democrat, clarified this important point to the Times.

“With every rule-making and regulation we need to be looking at the economic impact as well as the environmental impacts,” explained Robinson.

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Because, obviously, economic salience for oil refineries is more important than the health of our lungs and region’s environment.

Under Wallerstein’s tenure as the AQMD’s chairman, pollution dropped significantly. Although Southern California is still the smoggiest region in America, the level of particle pollutants in the air today is lower than it has been in decades, including a 65 percent drop from 2005 alone.

While much of this is the result of cleaner cars, a significant part of it also had to do with the AQMD’s goal setting agendas, pushing large polluters like oil refineries and the port to develop cleaner methods and protocols in hopes that Southern California can one day meet the federal standards for air quality. In order to meet those standards, the AQMD under Wallerstein continued to impose more strict regulations on heavy polluters.

But, according to a December Op-Ed in the L.A. Times, an aggressive campaign by oil industry lobbyists worked to ensure the AQMD’s newest plan would include looser regulations on their infrastructure, citing billions of dollars in new costs.

The plan passed, was reaffirmed Friday, and means Southern California’s biggest polluters are held to significantly looser requirements for future emissions. Specifically, AQMD workers tried to lower the limit on nitrogen-oxide emissions to 12.5 tons per day by 2023, about half the current limit established 22 years ago. The board, voted to on a modified plan that lowers the limit more gradually, and only to 14.5 tons per day.

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The Western States Petroleum Association backs the new guidelines affirmed last Friday. ExxonMobile, Shell, Venoco Oil, Chevron, ConocoPhilips, and several others are all members.