Air pollution reduction program ruled illegal

[Source: Los Angeles Business Journal] A controversial program to give local refineries and major manufacturers more flexibility in reducing air pollution has been ruled illegal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, officials disclosed late Wednesday.

The federal agency said the program fails to meet national clean air standards.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District in December adopted revisions to its cap-and-trade pollution credits program, known as Reclaim, involving local refineries, power plants, cement plants and other major industrial facilities. But instead of adopting a staff recommendation for faster and more broad-based reductions in the smog-forming pollutant nitrogen oxide, the district’s board chose a slower pace of reductions favored by the oil industry.

At the time, Western States Petroleum Association President Catherine Reheis-Boyd, said in a statement, “We are pleased the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) Board listened carefully to the concerns of many of the participants in the RECLAIM program … Today’s decision prioritizes strong environmental protections without jeopardizing thousands of jobs and our region’s economic vitality.”

But the vote was met with immediate criticism from environmental groups, which became louder after a new Republican majority of elected officials on the district’s board voted earlier this month to oust Barry Wallerstein, its longtime executive officer. Last week, the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups sued the agency over the December board vote on the Reclaim program.

The EPA ruling, signed Tuesday but not released until late Wednesday, said that information had recently come to light that the Reclaim program was failing to ensure refineries and other industrial plants installed the latest pollution control technologies. The ruling said that an excess supply of pollution reduction credits had depressed prices for those credits, making it far cheaper for companies to buy credits on the open market rather than install the pollution control devices. As a result, the region was failing to meet federal standards for reducing emissions of nitrogen oxide.

The EPA ruling said that in order for pollution controls to be installed and emission reduced enough to meet federal Clean Air Act standards, the emissions cap must be lowered more rapidly, causing prices for pollution reduction credits to rise. It ordered both the state Air Resources Board and the Air Quality Management District to submit new regulations within the next year that ensure compliance with the Clean Air Act.

Late Wednesday, the Western States Petroleum Association said it was reviewing the EPA ruling and would have a statement Thursday morning.

Source: Los Angeles Business Journal
March 16, 2016