Air quality board set to adopt smog plan with voluntary measures for ports, tougher rules on refineries

Southern California air quality regulators are poised to adopt a pollution-reduction plan Friday that relies on voluntary measures from ports, warehouses and rail yards responsible for much of the region’s harmful emissions.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District board also appears likely to adopt a tougher regulatory stance toward oil refineries as part of a plan to ease the nation’s worst smog and reduce its harm to the health of Southern Californians over the next 15 years.

But the agency’s voluntary approach to lowering the pollution caused by the diesel trucks, ships and trains that haul millions of tons of goods through the region is more consequential, because the freight industry creates a far greater amount of Southern California’s smog.

The district’s intention to collaborate with freight haulers, at least initially, is backed by cargo-moving industries, which have long argued that formal regulations by the region’s smog-control agency would stifle job growth.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, have expressed outrage, saying that the district’s anticipated decision will slow progress in curbing emissions and will hurt millions of people, including many suffering from asthma, lung and heart disease and other pollution-related illnesses.

Instead of imposing emissions targets and rules on goods-movement hubs that attract large numbers of trucks, ships and locomotives, the air district plan seeks the cooperation of the industry to make its own reductions. If the facilities fail to agree to adequate and enforceable measures within a year, regulators will switch tactics and proceed with formal rules.

Philip Fine, the air district’s deputy executive officer, said that the plan’s potential for tougher regulations in the future makes the approach “more aggressive than we have been in the past on warehouses and rail yards and airports, and I would even say ports.”

“We’re not shying away from a fight with the ports,” Fine said. “What we’re saying is we think we can get more and faster emission reductions by bringing everyone to the table…. We can achieve more, at least starting out, in a collaborative approach.”

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