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New Air Bills Celebrated, But Can We Breathe Easier?

Updated: Jan 7, 2021

Smoggy Los Angeles - Photo

The legislature just sent three bills to the Governor’s desk intended to reduce green house gases and air pollution.  But if you live in Inland Southern California or along the Salton Sea, its not clear how immediately they’ll help you breathe easier. 

The most publicized is AB 398, the bill that extends Cap and Trade to 2031.  Cap and Trade sets a limit on how much green house gases any stationary source can emit and then lowers that cap every year.  In theory, it allows businesses that reduce emissions to trade credits to other businesses that need to continue to pollute at the same level either because there are not better technologies or they can’t afford them.  Cap and Trade generates a large fund that is primarily used to finance Jerry Brown’s controversial bullet train, affordable housing and other programs geared to reduce pollution particularly in disadvantaged communities.

AB 1132, on the other hand, claims to increase the enforcement powers of air quality agencies to immediately stop operations that are creating an imminent and substantial threat to the environment without first holding a hearing. As a practical matter, most air districts already have broad powers to shut down operations that create an immediate threat to the community or they can obtain injunctions in court.  It's difficult to gauge how this bill will help in the real world.

Finally, AB 617 requires the state Air Resources board to develop a uniform statewide system of annual reporting of emissions of criteria air pollutants and toxic air contaminants used by certain categories of stationary sources.  Businesses will be required to report of how much toxic air contaminants are released.  The Environmental Protection Agency has long had regulations in place requiring the disclosure of toxic inventories so it is unclear how much this system will help.  In that sense, it may create more bureaucracy and more of a repetitive burden on business than it actually helps improve air quality.

These bills all focus on stationary sources rather than one of the largest sources of pollution — automobiles and trucks driving down our freeways.  Why don’t the Air Resource agencies more aggressively regulate cars and trucks?  Politics.  For years, Mexico City has had rules requiring that people use their automobiles every other day which significantly reduced pollution.  Why don’t we?    And though a bullet train sounds good, it is enormously expensive when monies could be used to electrify buses like Los Angeles is proposing or to upgrade the many trucks coming from the Port of Los Angeles (LA TIMES).  Finally, none of these bills will reduce the PM-10 or PM-5 particulate that will come from the decline of the Salton Sea and is directly linked to asthma and a shortened life span.

Practical steps can be taken on an immediate basis to help improve the quality of life for people in our region.  CURE has recommended BEST PRACTICES for the warehouse industry, and urges local agencies to condition projects with these practices in mind.  But the larger issue of truck traffic and regulation of car emissions can only be done at the federal and state levels.  Until our representatives tackle the hard issues of non-stationary sources, we should not breath easy. 


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