DIAMOND BAR, Calif. (AP) - Southern California regulators on Friday approved a 15-year blueprint for cleaning up the region’s smoggy air as it faces a looming federal deadline and a troubling rise in lung-searing days.
The plan passed 11-2 by the board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District uses a carrot-and-stick approach to meeting deadlines for reducing ozone and other emissions in the region of 17 million people.
The measure takes aim at large polluters such as oil refineries, power plants and the sprawling Los Angeles and Long Beach port complexes. It also deals with pollution at airports.
It calls for phasing out a 24-year-old program that allowed factories and other businesses that met targets for reducing ozone-causing nitrogen oxides to sell pollution credits to other businesses.
Lawmakers and environmentalists said that allowed some companies to avoid installing costly pollution control equipment.
For several reasons, AQMD staff recommended essentially switching back to “a more traditional plan of regulation,” agency spokesman Sam Atwood said.
At the same time, the plan calls for finding $1 billion a year to provide pollution-cutting incentives, such as grants that allow trucking companies to replace older, polluting big-rigs with newer models.
The plan, which still requires state and federal approval, covers urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and all of Orange County. It covers areas that have some of the nation’s dirtiest air.
After decades of reductions in pollution, Southern California has seen a resurgence of bad air. Last year saw 132 days of unhealthy air because of ozone, up from 112 in 2015. At the same time, Southern California faces federal deadlines to reduce ozone-producing emissions by 45 percent by 2023 and an additional 10 percent by 2031.
Meeting those requirements means drastic pollution reductions.
“Today’s cars emit just a fraction of those driven a generation ago, and businesses in our region have reduced their emissions more than 90 percent. The easy pollution solutions were put in place decades ago,” said Wayne Nastri, SCAQMD’s executive officer.
“That’s why moving forward we need stringent regulations as well as financial incentives to transform our cars, our homes, our businesses and our goods movement industry to zero- or near-zero emissions in just a few short years,” he added in a statement.
According to the AQMD, about 88 percent of smog-forming emissions are caused by so-called “mobile sources” that include not only passenger cars but trains, planes, ships and trucks at the sprawling Los Angeles and Long Beach ports.
The ports, which are among the busiest for container shipping in the world, handle millions of tons of goods each year and thousands of trucks rumble to and from their terminals to distribution warehouses.
Although critics have called for tougher regulations, the new plan instead gives the ports a year to come up with voluntary but enforceable ways of reducing emissions before new regulations are considered.
The plan also sets a staff deadline to come up with proposed regulations to reduce emissions at airports - not from planes, which are under federal authority but from non-aircraft such as baggage carts and tugs that tow airliners.
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