[Source: The Press-Enterprise] Wayne Nastri’s arrival a year ago as the chief of South California’s air quality agency was seen by many as a coup for the business community.
The former Bush administration official and environmental consultant took the helm of the South Coast Air Quality Management District just after a takeover of the district’s governing board by Republicans seeking a more business-friendly approach to smog cleanup strategies.
In June, Nastri unveiled a 15-year smog plan that calls for as much as $1 billion a year in public money to help polluters retool to cut emissions. And he is now seeking volunteer reductions from port, rail yard and warehouse distribution centers.
Yet in an hour-long interview at the air district’s Diamond Bar headquarters, where his office has a view of the crowded 60 and 57 freeways, Nastri said it is neither fair nor accurate to say he is averse to rule-making or afraid to enforce them.
On four occasions, he halted operations at metal processing businesses in Paramount because they were emitting harmful levels of hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing pollutant.
And the smog plan with all those incentives, which was approved by state officials last month, also calls for phasing out a 22-year old cap-and-trade marketplace used to limit air pollution from the region’s top 275 or so industrial polluters and replacing it with traditional regulations. This marketplace has been criticized for allowing oil refineries to purchase “pollution credits” from shuttered factories rather than upgrading their emission-control equipment.
The plan also has new rules for diesel backup generators, water heaters, furnaces and other machinery.
“This plan has a much stronger regulatory approach,” said Nastri, who grew up Carson, a refinery town, during the 1960s when choking smog regularly blanketed the region.
While representatives of business and environmental groups say Nastri is still unproven, both camps appreciate his disarming and approachable demeanor. And he is winning their respect.
“Nastri is a straight shooter, and open to listening to input from all sides,” said Adrian Martinez, a Los Angeles-based attorney for Earthjustice, which does legal work for the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.
“At times, he has indicated that he is willing to stand up to the region’s biggest polluters.”
Bill La Marr, executive director of the Anaheim-based California Small Business Alliance, also had good words about Nastri.
“He is inclusive, accessible and willing to listen, and is a marked improvement from the previous administration,” La Marr said. “He puts you at ease.”
Nastri said identifying $1 billion in incentives is part of a strategy to spur talks with state and federal officials about what it will really take to clean up smog in the nation’s most-polluted air basin.
The sea-to-mountains air basin in Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties last year failed to me[e]t the federal standard for lung-irritating ozone during 132 days. Most of the smog-forming emissions come from cars, trucks, locomotives and ships that fall under state or federal regulatory authority.
“We have zero and near-zero emission technology, whether that is battery electric or fuel cell electric vehicles,” he said. “The challenge, though, is the cost. So we are having a very honest discussion.”
This discussion, he said, replaced a past practice of not specifying where all pollution cuts would come from, leaving a “black box” gap to be closed by future, unidentified technologies and rules.
Nastri acknowledges finding funds is challenging.
But he hopes to get about $100 million a year from pending legislation, AB 1274, that would move the requirement for a new car’s first smog test from six years to eight years after purchase. Vehicle owners would still have to pay a fee, but the money that would have gone to smog certificates would instead go to clean-air programs.
Nastri said that a federal infrastructure bill that President Trump has promised — some put its costs as high as $1 trillion — could include funding for clean air.
“If you are going to be building the roads and bridges, you should make sure the vehicles themselves are clean, and not as polluting as can be,” Nastri said.
At the state level, a fee could be imposed on thousands of cargo containers that arrive at the ports before being transported through the air basin on trucks and trains.
Still, Nastri added that regulations should not unfairly burden one sector of the economy.
“The challenge is, ‘how do you look at ways that equitably distribute the cost?’ ” he said. “You just can’t blame the transportation system that is providing goods that the consumer wants.”
One strategy is to collaborate with regulated industries.
Nastri is working to reach voluntary agreements with the operators of the ports, rail yards and warehouse distribution centers to reduce emissions from the trucks and other vehicles. And he plans to pivot to traditional rulemaking for such facilities if no meaningful agreements emerge.
This strategy prompted criticism from environmental and public health groups.
“The time for voluntary measures passed long ago, and we cannot allow some of the region’s biggest polluters to continue operating without any rules or requirements to clean up their own mess,” said Martinez, the attorney for Earthjustice.
Yet Nastri maintains that the district will achieve significant pollution cuts from such facilities without losing time. If volunteer measures don’t come to fruition, the air district will pivot to rulemaking.
Essentially the same work, such identifying pollution reduction strategies, needs to be done whether the district is “engaged in collaborative efforts” or “making rules,” he said.
“Where is the time wasted? We still have to all of these things,” he said.
Nastri acknowledged that cleaning up nation’s most polluted air is no easy task.
Just this month, the Legislature approved a fuel tax and transportation project bill contains language that curtails the ability to require upgrades on diesel trucks that meet 2010 emission standards for as long as 13 to 18 years. Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1 on Friday.
And diesel trucks are Southern California’s largest source of pollution.
“We are going to press ahead,” Nastri said. “We are going to move forward in our existing authority, and we going to look to expand our authority.”
Home: Aliso Viejo
2013-present: Co-president, E4 Strategic Solutions Inc., government relations consulting firm.
2011-2012: Senior vice president, Capitol Management, strategic counsel/government relations services.
2009-2011: Senior vice president, Dutko Worldwide, develops and implements strategies to shape public policy outcomes.
2001-2009: Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, southwestern region administrator under President George W. Bush; the region covers California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii.
1995-2001: President, Environmental Mediation Inc., government relations and public affairs firm focusing on the environment.
Source: The Press-Enterprise
April 28, 2017