Southern California regulators approve smog plan with tougher refinery rules, voluntary measures for ports

Southern California air quality officials voted Friday to impose tougher rules on oil refineries but rejected a proposal to regulate pollution from ports and warehouses, which are responsible for much of the region’s harmful emissions.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District’s 15-year smog-reduction plan, approved on an 11-2 vote, will guide efforts to slash emissions as required to meet federal health standards and reduce harm to 17 million people in the nation’s smoggiest region.

But it will rely on only voluntary measures from ports, warehouses and rail yards.

The $16-billion plan is expected to prevent thousands of asthma-related emergency room visits and an estimated 1,600 early deaths a year from air pollution. These benefits, according to an air district analysis, will outweigh the costs to industry, taxpayers and consumers.

But the effort faces immediate obstacles because of its hefty price tag.

Successful implementation would require boosting local, state and federal spending on cash incentives for cleaner vehicles to $1 billion a year — a tenfold increase — at a time when the Trump administration is moving to slash environmental regulations and impose sweeping cuts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“This plan relies very, very heavily on a whole bunch of money that we don’t have in our pocket,” said board member Joseph Lyou, who heads the Coalition for Clean Air.

The panel voted 7 to 6 to accelerate existing efforts to reduce smog-forming emissions under AQMD’s troubled pollution-trading program, known as the Regional Clean Air Incentives Market, or RECLAIM. Then, “as soon practicable,” the newly approved plan will replace RECLAIM’s “cap and trade” approach with traditional “command and control” regulations on emissions from specific sources.

The program for nitrogen oxide pollution was established in 1993 to offer flexibility to refineries, power plants and other large facilities.

But state regulators, lawmakers and environmental groups have attacked it for falling short of promised reductions and allowing refineries to avoid installing readily available pollution controls.

Environmentalists applauded regulators’ decision to sunset the cap-and-trade program but accused them of ducking their obligation to clean up the freight industry.

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