Unknown Knowns

The Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary defines SCIENCE as “ the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.”  That seems very reasonable to me.

As Donald Rumsfield so memorably pointed out as we marched toward starting a war in Iraq, there are known knowns, known unknowns, and the problematic unknown unknowns.  Science can help us with all of these.  That’s why humans have embraced science.  We, as a species, like to know things.  What science can’t help us with are the very, very problematic unknown knowns—that is, the things we know but insist on acting as if we don’t know them.

Unknown knowns—the intentional act of choosing ignorance or misunderstanding—that’s a failure of leadership.   The advantage of knowing is that you can then act in ways that reflect that knowledge.   Sometimes, however, decision-makers don’t want to act in ways that reflect knowledge.  Sometimes, decision-makers (read: politicians and regulators) want to be ignorant, or act as if they are ignorant.  That, I believe, is what happens in the world of air pollution policy—a strong desire to ignore the world of known knowns and instead to embrace the world of unknown knowns.

There are lots of examples of the effort of air policy decision-makers to live in the world of unknown knowns.  One was the Bush Administration’s refusal to acknowledge the science about exposure to ozone.  Science made it clear that the current “health-based” standard for ozone exposure was too high and should be lowered significantly.  The Bush Administration decided—despite the known knowns—not to set the ozone standard at the level that science established is needed to protect health.   Instead, that Administration embraced the world of unknown knowns,  pretending  no significant adjustment for the ozone standard was necessary.

Now, here’s a new example of unknown knowns.  The health impacts of living near high-traffic roadways.  When I say “near” I mean within about 300 meters; “high-traffic” is about 100,000 trips per day.  So, the health impacts of living within about 300 meters of a roadway that carries about 100,000 vehicles per day.  There is gobs of science about these health impacts (and yes, “gobs” is a real word—Merriam-Webster defines it as “a large amount —usually used in plural <gobs of money>”.  Merriam-Webster’s choice to illustrate “gobs” with the phrase “gobs of money” does raise an interesting question—which is more likely to be relevant “gobs of science” or “gobs of money”?  Too bad that’s not just a rhetorical question…)

Anyway, back to the gobs of science.  For the purposes of this post, I’ll point out three studies (I’ll add more studies to this site soon):

  • A study conducted in Long Beach and Riverside shows that the total cost of asthma due to pollution is much higher than past traditional risk assessments have indicated because those past studies have failed to acknowledge the growing evidence that exposure to traffic-related air pollution is a cause of asthma and a trigger for attacks. (2012)
  • Older men living near roadways in Boston were found to have decreased cognitive function, even after controlling for a wide range of things (2011)
  • Researchers examining health-care data on nearly 5,000 pregnant women in California found that African-Americans were about three times more likely to miscarry if they lived within a half-block of a freeway or busy boulevard than if they resided near lighter traffic. Among nonsmokers, living near busy roads increased their odds of miscarriage about 50 percent. (2009)

So, you’re getting my point here, right? Living next to busy roadways can cause very serious problems.  But as regulators (and industry) love to say:  “the dose makes the poison.”   Well, here’s where we get back to the known knowns and the unknown knowns.  We don’t know—because the regulators refuse to know—how much worse the air pollution is near the high-traffic roadways in Southern California.  We do know that about 1.8 million people in the South Coast Air Basin live within 300 meters of these roadways.   But we don’t really know what’s going on there.  Given the fact that science is telling us that we should know more about these exposures and how they impact health—right now a known unknown—we were shocked when we asked the South Coast Air Quality Management District to monitor air pollution in 3 representative areas so we can know more about exposures to air pollution there, and they refused.  Then, we asked Jared Blumenfeld, the Regional Administrator at the U.S. EPA, to require monitors.  He also refused.  Unknown knowns.  No one has to address unknowns—even when they should know.

Well, based on other things I’ve blogged here, I’m sure you know the result of those refusals.  We sued. We sued the U.S. EPA because their refusal to require air pollution monitors in these locations violates both the Clean Air Act requirement that everyone in the region’s air must meet the health-based standards, including the 1.8 million people who live near high-traffic roadways; and because refusing to monitor air quality for these 1.8 million people violate the U.S. EPA’s own regulations.

Administrator Blumenfeld—your unknown knowns are other’s known knowns.  The science tells us what people know–they are sick and dying from air pollution.  The science also tells us that it may be much worse for people living near high-traffic roadways.  The known unknown is how serious is the problem.   Not knowing is a failure of leadership.

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The Other Shoe Drops

I’ve written here before about our case against the California Air Resources Board challenging Arnold Schwarzenegger’s blind and mad rush forward to adopt a carbon trading scheme for California no matter if the damn thing works or not.  In March, the San Francisco Superior Court decided that the Air Resources Board violated California’s environmental laws when it adopted the carbon trading scheme.

So now, the other shoe drops and here’s the Final Writ and Judgment from the Court.

The Court has enjoined the Air Resources Board from doing anything and everything related to the carbon trading scheme “including any further rulemaking and implementation of cap and trade, specifically but limited to any action in furtherance of California Cap and Trade Program Resolution 10-42.

If you have any question about the scope of the Court’s Writ and whether ARB can continue to work “behind the scenes” on cap and trade, you should take a look at  Resolution 10-42.

I think that about 1/3 of the ARB staff is going to have nothing to do starting Monday.

Wait, I have a thought–maybe they would work on developing regulations, standards, and incentives that will actually reduce emissions from sources of pollution.  I’m just sayin’…

 

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20 years and 6 months and counting….

Did you know that Sunday was an important milestone day here in the South Coast Air Basin?  Well it was.

Twenty years and 6 months ago Congress established in the Clean Air Act the requirement that  the Environmental Protection Agency must announce whether the health-based National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Ozone has been met in the areas of the United States with the worst air quality (the attainment date was earlier for areas where the air quality wasn’t as bad).

Ozone is a very serious health threat.  Very serious.  In fact:

Ozone is an invisible gas made of three oxygen atoms (O3).  Ozone is often referred to as smog. Ozone forms when two groups of gases have a chemical reaction in the air triggered by sunlight and heat. The two groups of gases—hydrocarbon vapors and nitrogen oxides—come from many sources around us.

Ozone reacts chemically (“oxidizes”) with internal body tissues, such as those in the lung. Think of it as a “sunburn” on the lungs. Ozone irritates and inflames the respiratory system at levels frequently found across the nation during the summer months. Breathing ozone may lead to:

  • shortness of breath, chest pain
  • inflammation of the lung lining, wheezing and coughing
  • increased risk of asthma attacks, need for medical treatment and for hospitalization for people with lung diseases, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • premature death

Children who grow up in areas of high ozone pollution may never develop their full lung capacity as adults. That can put them at greater risk of lung disease throughout their lives.

Here’s how this health information gets translated into real people’s lives:

Yes, that’s right–according to Drs. Hall and Brajer, the authors of this report–41 people each year die and hundreds of thousands of people each year are sickened by the on-going failure to meet the ozone standard.  (For the more technical among you, I should note that I know this figure is for the failure to meet the 8-hour ozone standard developed by the Bush Administration.  Meeting the 1-hour standard would prevent even more harm.)

Well, the EPA has failed to say whether the South Coast Air Basin has met the standard.

This year, as in past years, the American Lung Association give all of the counties in the South Coast Air Basin a failing grade—an ‘F’—for air quality.  They also ranked the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside area as the “most polluted” for ozone in the country.

On May 10th, the EPA said that they believe that Sacramento has met the standard.  They’ve been strangely silent on the South Coast Air Basin and the San Joaquin Valley–the two other places in California that are unlikely to meet the standard.

That’s why,  a coalition of health and justice organizations, including Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles,  Desert Citizens Against Pollution, Communities for a Better Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Coalition for a Safe Environment sent a notice to the EPA of the intent to sue the EPA for its failure to determine whether the South Coast Air Basin has met the 1-hour ozone standard.  We’ll file suit in federal court in 60-days if the EPA has not fulfilled its mandatory duty to make this finding.

In the San Joaquin Valley–Association of Irritated Residents, El Comité para el Bienestar de Earlimart, and separately,  San Joaquin Valley advocates, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air and the Sierra Club sent the EPA a notice of intent to sue letter, too.

In the South Coast Air Basin some 17 million people endure the most ozone-polluted air in the country, killing people and causing staggering amounts of financil and emotional distress for families.  Just think, based upon the number above,  in the South Coast Air Basin,

  • nearly every week, a family buries  a loved-one BECAUSE we have not met the ozone standard;
  • nearly every day, a family rushes a loved one the the emergency room, gasping for breath, BECAUSE we have not met the ozone standard;
  • every day, 2 people are admitted to the hospital for respiratory problems, BECAUSE we have not met the ozone standard;
  • every day, more than 300 asthma attacks happen BECAUSE we have not met the ozone standard.

The EPA has an obligation to make the finding about our air quality.  Silence and inaction are not an option in the face of the kind of harm caused by air pollution.

60 days and counting.

Clean Air matters.

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Trading is working? Really?

Hello, CARB, you guys reading the papers???

Cuts in carbon emissions by developed countries since 1990 have been cancelled out three times over by increases in imported goods from developing countries such as China, according to the most comprehensive global figures ever compiled.

….

According to standard data, developed countries can claim to have reduced their collective emissions by almost 2% between 1990 and 2008. But once the carbon cost of imports have been added to each country, and exports subtracted – the true change has been an increase of 7%.   If Russia and Ukraine – which cut their CO2 emissions rapidly in the 1990s due to economic collapse – are excluded, the rise is 12%.

I’m just sayin’…

You know, people–I’ll just use Ann Carlson at UCLA as a recent example–are so quick to say that we’re fighting against trading because we don’t think reductions will happen in our communities, and how wrong we are for thinking that.

Well, that’s kind of right (well, not the part about us being wrong for thinking that).

Really, I’ve been fighting against trading from the beginning because its a distraction from the real work of addressing greenhouse gas emissions.  That’s why when we released our Declaration Against the Use of Trading and Offsets to Address Climate Change in 2008, we also released our top 13 reasons for opposing trading and offsets–The Cap and Trade Charade for Climate Change (re-posted below).  Yes, “hot-spots” are a concern–but it’s not by mistake that concern is found at number 11 on the list.  “Hot-spots” are a critically important concern–but not the only concern.  Not by a long shot.

Fundamentally, if trading and offsets are going to used to reduce carbon emissions–don’t trading and offsets have to succeed at reducing carbon emissions?  I mean, really.

The Cap and Trade Charade for Climate Change

13 Reasons Why Trading and Offset Use are NOT a Solution to Climate Change:

1.  Time is of the essence

2.  The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) has failed to deliver greenhouse gas emission reductions

3.  Although the EU-ETS has not reduced greenhouse gas emissions it has awarded windfall profits to the largest polluters

4.  Trading stifles technological innovation needed to achieve long term goals for greenhouse gas reductions

5.  Global offsets are often unverifiable, lead to oppression, and do not benefit our communities

6.  Trading is undemocratic, secretive, and excludes the public from decision-making about whether and how to address greenhouse gas emissions

7.  Trading intensifies financial incentives for fraud

8.  There is a broad-based rejection of trading

9.  Climate change disproportionately affects communities of color fundamentally linking environmental justice to the need for real greenhouse gas emissions reductions

10.  Failure to address the primary cause of greenhouse gas emissions will also fail to address the primary cause of negative health, safety, and quality of life impacts in communities of color

11.  Pollution trading can create and exacerbate existing pollution “hot-spots”

12.  Trading, investing, profiting and gambling on public health is just wrong

13.  There is a better way

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Foward, CARB, Forward

In Europe, where they have been trading and offsetting carbon under the Koyoto Protocol, there have been concerns raised from the beginning, emission have not been reduced, and the programs are plagued with fraud, corporate lobbying interference,  and manipulation.

We hope that CARB will take the opportunity resulting from the San Francisco Superior Court finding that it failed to truly consider alternatives to the trading scheme planned for California to both follow the law and to re-think how we can truly reduce harmful emissions of greenhouse gases.  But this April 7th article might–just might–suggest otherwise:

Europe’s commissioner for climate action on Tuesday confirmed for the first time plans to link the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) with California’s carbon market which opens next year.

The estimated value of transactions on the EU ETS was €72bn (£62bn) in 2010 and the California cap and trade scheme could be worth $10bn (£6bn) by 2016, according to Point Carbon.

But the European scheme has been fraught with problems including over-allocation of allowances resulting in windfall profits for energy corporations and allegedly fraudulent “missing trader” transactions worth €5bn. The scheme has also been subjected to cyber attacks.  (all links are from original article)

Well,  I can hope–can’t I?

Anyway, here’s the next step in the court battle:

On April 22, 2011, environmental justice groups that succeeded in its lawsuit against the California Air Resources Board for its failure to consider alternatives to protect the public health and the environment during the implementation of the California Global Warming Solutions Act— popularly known as AB 32—submitted its final documentation to the Court that will determine the impact of the Court’s March 17, 2011 on the program’s implementation.

Judge Ernest Goldsmith, of the San Francisco Superior Court, has already ruled that the California Air Resources Board violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when, among other things, it failed to properly consider alternatives to a “cap and trade” program in its plan to implement AB 32. The Court ordered Petitioners to submit proposed documents – Writ of Mandate – consistent with its Decision, to finalize the Court’s order. In the documents submitted to the Court, Petitioners offered two options for moving forward. The first option, which most closely tracks the Court’s language, enjoins, or stops, all implementation of all of the measures described in Scoping Plan adopted by CARB. The Scoping Plan is CARB’s blueprint for how it plans to implement AB 32. The second option narrows the Court’s proposed Decision to enjoin, or stop, only further implementation and development of the cap and trade program, until CARB completes a lawfully adequate CEQA review.

“We want to strengthen AB 32 and ensure that it is effective; a hard and honest look at cap and trade is critical to getting there,” said Bill Gallegos, Executive Director of Communities for a Better Environment, one of the environmental justice plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Our communities demand real solutions for reducing pollution emissions, not another scheme that makes market traders rich at the expense of our health,” Gallegos added.

Jesse Marquez of Wilmington, a community that is among the worst polluted by oil refineries and other industrial sources of air pollution in the state, explained that “Cap and trade schemes don’t work. The court is right that CARB should not continue implementing cap and trade until it has considered other options.” In offering the Court a more limited option to that included in the Court’s order, “we recognize that some of the implementation measures provide important benefits to our community and all of California, sadly it seems that CARB unwilling to recognize that pollution trading isn’t the same thing as pollution reduction,” Marquez added.
Communities for a Better Environment represented itself and its members; the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment (CRPE) represented Association of Irritated Residents, Coalition for a Safe Environment, Society for Positive Action, West County Toxics Coalition, Angela Johnson Meszaros, Dr. Henry Clark, Jesse Marquez, Shabaka Heru, and Tom Frantz; Angela Johnson Meszaros represented Martha Dina Arguello, Caroline Farrell, and California Communities Against Toxics.

For those who are interested, here’s what was filed by both us and by ARB.

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In Which ARB Drives the Bus Over the Cliff

My kids–like many kids–love Winnie-the-Pooh.  Not the new fangled stuff, I’m talking about the original A.A. Milne stories with their wonderful illustrations by E.H. Shepard.  One of our favorites stories is “In Which Pooh and Piglet go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle.”   Anyway, we always loved how the stories in the first two books are named “In Which” this or “In Which” that.  So, building on that excellent foundation–here’s a chapter in the story of AB 32–”In Which ARB Drives the Bus Over the Cliff.”

Many of you have heard about the San Francisco Superior Court’s recent ruling that orders all of California’s plan to address climate change be halted.    If you haven’t heard about this yet the coverage is just a web search-engine away….

First, if you haven’t done so recently, I encourage you to watch Annie Leonard’s excellent discussion of cap and trade here.  Also, I encourage you to re-read (or read for the first time) our declaration regarding our opposition to the use of cap and trade and offsets to address climate, as well as our 13 reasons for our opposition.  We had signatories to the declaration from throughout California, the nation, and the world (ok, only a few from outside of the U.S.).

So let the drivin’ begin:

CLIMATE LAW IMPLEMENTATION TO HALT
DEAL TO LIMIT COURT RULING FAILS TO MATERIALIZE

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA – On March 30, 2011, California Air Resources Board officials and environmental justice groups met in an unsuccessful effort to reach an agreement to limit the scope of a pending court order that will halt all implementation of the California Global Warming Solutions Act, popularly known as AB 32.

“While we cannot discuss the nature of our confidential negotiations, unfortunately we were unable to reach an agreement with the Air Resources Board that would allow the good parts – the great majority of the measures – of AB 32 to proceed,” said Caroline Farrell, Executive Director of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “The Air Resources Board is driving AB 32 off a cliff and we call on Governor Brown to provide the leadership necessary to ensure that the Air Resources Board implements AB 32 in a manner that benefits all Californians and guarantee that he will find willing partners in the environmental justice community,” added Farrell.

On March 18, 2011, a San Francisco Superior Court ruled that the California Air Resources Board violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it failed to properly consider alternatives to a “cap and trade” program in its plan to implement AB 32. Cap and trade is a pollution trading scheme that allows polluters—typically the oldest facilities located in low income communities of color—to continue or increase their pollution by buying “reductions” from other polluters. Instead of reducing local pollution and creating jobs in California, major polluters get to buy credits from often unverifiable projects in other states and countries.

Judge Ernest Goldsmith’s ruling rejected ARB’s rationale for choosing a pollution trading scheme, stating that the law requires more than “a discourse on cap and trade justification.” The decision requires ARB to fully analyze alternatives to the cap and trade program, and stops all implementation of the Scoping Plan – the cap and trade program as well as all other measures – until ARB complies with the law.

“Climate change has real and significant negative impacts on our communities now, and those impacts will only get worse if we delay in meeting the climate challenge,” said Bill Gallegos, Executive Director of Communities for a Better Environment, one of the environmental justice plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “We support the vast majority of the measures in the Scoping Plan, many of which we championed from the start, and want to see those measures move forward. We have been clear since AB 32’s inception that our biggest concern always has been, and continues to be, the unjust pollution trading scheme called Cap and Trade,” added Gallegos.

Communities for a Better Environment represented itself and its members; the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment (CRPE) represented Association of Irritated Residents, Coalition for a Safe Environment, Society for Positive Action, West County Toxics Coalition, Angela Johnson Meszaros, Dr. Henry Clark, Jesse Marquez, Shabaka Heru, and Tom Frantz; Angela Johnson Meszaros represented Martha Dina Arguello, Caroline Farrell, and California Communities Against Toxics.

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Public Health, Public Policy and Public Debate—here’s hoping we get to the “good” after trudging through the “bad” and the “ugly”

So, the big SCAQMD Governing Board meeting happened on January 7th and so far they have been silent about what happened.   Nonetheless, you can read a media report about it here.  That report recounts the heated exchange between a member of the public, Ricardo Pulido, and Chairman Burke.  I gotta say, the whole hearing wasn’t pretty.  I, personally, was troubled by comments from Dr. Burke that one of the people who testified was being “untruthful” in her testimony to the Board when she said that “many of us tried to meet with the Board and there have been refusals to meet with us.” (See the recording of the hearing here starting at 57:35—the person giving the testimony, Cynthia Babich, gave very compelling testimony about the true impacts on this Rule on real people—I urge you to watch it.) After basically calling Ms. Babich a liar, Dr. Burke sought to make it very clear that the Board—unlike some other boards—prides itself on being very accessible. (By the way, a Board Member did refuse to meet with us—you can see that “discussion” between me and Dr. Burke, joined by Rolling Hills Estates City Council Member Judy Mitchell, at about 1:09.) At another point in the hearing, a member of the public, Jesse Marquez, was criticized for “waiting until the last minute” to raise concerns about the Proposed Rule to the Board. (I guess the 20-page comment letter we sent in October and the four years of litigation on this Rule weren’t enough to show that he had issues with it.) These exchanges were particularly unfortunate to the extent that they shifted focus from the critically important air quality issues that were being considered by the Board and the public. They also pull at the very fabric of public participation because ultimately such exchanges make members of the public less willing to testify before the Board for fear of the critical tone directed toward the public; indeed one young man who had planned to testify changed his mind because he was “terrified” by the whole thing.

Anyway, after the testimony was done, the Chairman recognized Kurt Wiese, AQMD’s General Counsel.  Mr. Wiese walked up onto the dais, gave the Chairman a piece of paper and whispered a few words to him.  Chairman Burke then read from the paper: “We have received testimony today from several members of the public and given the history on this Rule, I ….propose that we: 1) close the public hearing…; and 2) ask staff to review the information received and report back to us and to continue our deliberation on the item to our February Board meeting.” (See the recording at 2:47:40.) After a follow-up question from a Board Member, Dr. Lyou, it seems that at the February 4th Governing Board Meeting, Board members will be able to ask staff any questions they have about the proposed Rule, and the Board will vote on the matter then. The Board suggested, however, they would not take public comment during that meeting. Frankly, it’s unclear to me how or why they’d prohibit public comment during that meeting.

The staff/Board decision to delay this item by a month provides a bit more time to discuss the proposed Rule and its dramatic implications for health and the environment in the Air Basin. Sadly, it seems that SCAQMD’s General Counsel believes that the discussion shouldn’t include the Governing Board Members—you know, the people who have to actually decide about this. We asked each Member to meet with us to discuss further the Proposed Rule but Mr. Wiese e-mailed us “to notify” us that he has advised the Board Members “not to accept meetings on Rule 1315.”

In the meantime, I hope that others will join us in trying to understand why the Governing Board would adopt a version of the Rule that would kill hundreds of people when they could adopt a version that would kill far, far, far fewer.

I hope that the Board will take this opportunity to engage in this important conversation in a way that leads to the “good” of public debate and public policy development instead of the “bad” and the “ugly” that we’ve fallen into so far.

So, the big SCAQMD Governing Board meeting happened on January 7th and so far they have been silent about what happened.   Nonetheless, you can read a media report about it here.  That report recounts the heated exchange between a member of the public, Ricardo Pulido, and Chairman Burke.  I gotta say, the whole hearing wasn’t pretty.  I, personally, was troubled by comments from Dr[MSOffice1] . [MG2] [AJM3] Burke that one of the people who testified was being “untruthful” in her testimony to the Board when she said that “many of us tried to meet with the Board and there have been refusals to meet with us.” (See the recording of the hearing here starting at 57:35—the person giving the testimony, Cynthia Babich, gave very compelling testimony about the true impacts on this Rule on real people—I urge you to watch it.) After basically calling Ms. Babich a liar, Dr. Burke sought to make it very clear that the Board—unlike some other boards—prides itself on being very accessible. (By the way, a Board Member did refuse to meet with us—you can see that “discussion” between me and Dr. Burke, joined by Rolling Hills Estates City Council Member Judy Mitchell, at about 1:09.) [MG4] At another point in the hearing, a member of the public, Jesse Marquez, was criticized for “waiting until the last minute” to raise concerns about the Proposed Rule to the Board. (I guess the 20-page comment letter we sent in October and the four years of litigation on this Rule weren’t enough to show that he had issues with it.) These exchanges were particularly unfortunate to the extent that they shifted focus from the critically important air quality issues that were being considered by the Board and the public. They also pull at the very fabric of public participation because ultimately such exchanges make members of the public less willing to testify before the Board for fear of the critical tone directed toward the public; indeed one young man who had planned to testify changed his mind because he was “terrified” by the whole thing.

Anyway, after the testimony was done, the Chairman recognized Kurt Wiese, AQMD’s General Counsel.  Mr. Wiese walked up onto the dais, gave the Chairman a piece of paper and whispered a few words to him.  Chairman Burke then read from the paper: “We have received testimony today from several members of the public and given the history on this Rule, I ….propose that we: 1) close the public hearing…; and 2) ask staff to review the information received and report back to us and to continue our deliberation on the item to our February Board meeting.” (See the recording at 2:47:40.) After a follow-up question from a Board Member, Joe Lyou, it seems that at the February 4th Governing Board Meeting, Board members will be able to ask staff any questions they have about the proposed Rule, and the Board will vote on the matter then. The Board suggested, however, they would not take public comment during that meeting. Frankly, it’s unclear to me how or why they’d prohibit public comment during that meeting. [MG5]

The staff/Board decision to delay this item by a month provides a bit more time to discuss the proposed Rule and its dramatic implications for health and the environment in the Air Basin. Sadly, it seems that SCAQMD’s General Counsel believes that the discussion shouldn’t include the Governing Board Members—you know, the people who have to actually decide about this. We asked each Member to meet with us to discuss further the Proposed Rule but Mr. Wiese e-mailed us “to notify” us that he has advised the Board Members “not to accept meetings on Rule 1315.”

In the meantime, I hope that others will join us in trying to understand why the Governing Board would adopt a version of the Rule that would kill hundreds of people when they could adopt a version that would kill far, far, far fewer.

I hope that the Board will take this opportunity to engage in this important conversation in a way that leads to the “good” of public debate and public policy development instead of the “bad” and the “ugly” that we’ve fallen into so far.


[MSOffice1]I think of it as mocking him – people who insist on being called Dr. when they aren’t really doctors are signaling their own insecurities. Know what I mean, Dr.s Golden-Krasner and Johnson Meszaros?

[MG2]Do we have to call him Dr.? He has a Doctorate of Education—is that like a PhD, or not? If not, the “Dr.” is bs and I will not give him that honor—I have a Doctorate

of Jursiprudence—am I a Dr.?

[AJM3]ok, ok, my husband has an Ed.D and they really do get to be called Dr. Lawyers, back in the day could be called Dr. but they decided they preferred “Esquire”—what’s up with that….

[MG4]You’ve gotta put in that the original stated reason she refused to meet with us given by her assistant is that AQMD legal advised her not to. Please, please. You can explain that maybe it’s a misunderstanding, but still. She must have seen the email her assistant sent, and she made us look like lying assholes, so I now hate her.

[MG5]Do you want to add in here that they closed public comment—we aren’t allowed to testify at the Feb. 4 hearing?

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When Good Government Goes Bad

With the adoption of proposed Rule 1315 on Friday, The South Coast Air Quality Management District will manage to hit the sweet-spot of bad government:  writing a rule that strips valuable assets from the people who earned them to keep them for itself.   And all the while, making the air more deadly.

Strong words?  Yes.  Completely true?  Absolutely.

Let me explain.

As I’ve written (quite some time ago, now) in this blog before, there is a long and continuing battle between us and them (“us” is a coalition of environmental justice, public health, and environmental organizations and “them” is the SCAQMD.  Sadly, the U.S. EPA has joined in on the “them” side, but that’s a topic for a future blog).  At the very foundation of the battle is:  clean air matters.   You can read about some of that stuff here, and here, and here.

So here’s where we are now:  On Friday, the SCAQMD staff will ask the Governing Board to adopt—for the third time—Rule 1315.  The Rule has several features, but the central feature is to establish a system in which the SCAQMD takes from businesses the value of the air pollution reductions that they create and gives that value to the SCAQMD to spend as it sees fit.

Here’s how it works:   since we have the dirtiest air in the country, the federal Clean Air Act requires new sources of air pollution to “offset” their emissions by reducing emissions someplace else.  That is how the Act stops things from getting worse while other pollution reduction measures are put into place to reduce air pollution (you know, like how the SCAQMD has banned wood-burning fireplaces in new construction).  To make it easier for this to happen, the Act allows for a pollution reduction market.  In this market, a facility can reduce its air pollution emissions and then convert those reductions into “credits” that can be retained for future use or sold to other facilities.

Under the rules, when a business reduces its emissions and applies to the SCAQMD to get a “credit” for those reductions (an application that the SCAQMD charges a fee to make), the SCAQMD does a calculation that often results in none of the reductions being available to create a “credit.”  BUT—the SCAQMD is writing this Rule so that it can take those reductions, NOT do the calculations and then turn those reductions into “credits” for its own accounts.

Some of those “credits” are given to various businesses around the basin.  And–now this is where things get really, really sweet for the SCAQMD–the SCAQMD sells some of those “credits” to businesses that need “credits” to comply with the federal air quality law.  (So, for example, the SCAQMD used this type of scheme to create and sell “credits” to a power plant that was approved last month–selling them for around $33 million.)

So, how does this make air quality worse?  Well in the new scheme, the Rule that SCAQMD has written will allow them take “credit” for emissions reductions that occurred as long ago as 1990!  What does that mean?  Think about it like this:  let’s say a business called “ABC Products” makes machine parts and air pollution.  After 20 years of business in 1992, ABC Products decides to call it quits–retiring from the business and removing 5 tons per year of air pollution.  Now,  the air is 5 tons per year cleaner.  Nice!  Before this Rule, that reduction would accrue to the benefit of the air quality–basically an easy way to get the air a little cleaner without imposing more regulations on existing facilities.  After Friday’s Rule adoption, the SCAQMD will take those 5 tons that have been out of the air for 19 years and put them into their air account to be re-emitted into the air (and have to develop more regulations to compensate for it).  In fact,  take a look at these charts showing the health impacts of the Rule.  (really, look at the charts.)

The SCAQMD admits in its environmental review document (the environmental review document we sued to make them produce after they insisted that this rule would have no impacts at all) that they anticipate that using these re-emitted emissions will cause 299 deaths from the particulate and ozone impacts and 86 cases of cancer, in addition to a bunch of other health impacts over the life of the project.  That’s more than one person dead each month.   Anyone you know?  (And this number has been greatly underestimated because of how the SCAQMD decided to describe the project and the impacts numbers.)

Not being able to show you the names and faces of those who will die does not make their deaths any less real and important.  Not knowing which kid’s asthma attack was caused by these credits doesn’t make it any less real.  Not being sure your cancer was one of the 86 caused by this project doesn’t make it any less painful.

These are real issues and clean air matters.

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What else, really, can we say?

Back in 2006, the South Coast Air Quality Management District tried to change its rules to create a bunch of new pollution credits in this air basin and then to distribute those credits to fossil-fueled powerplants.  Of course, I’ve talked about this a lot.

Back then, the District insisted that these new powerplants were needed in order to avoid rolling black-outs because we just won’t have enough power available to meet the needs of residents and business here.  The SCAQMD insisted that it understood the energy needs of the basin.

Back then I argued that the District was not striking a reasonable balance between the need for energy and the need to clean the air.  You know–because clean air matters.  In fact, here’s the PowerPoint for the presentation I made to the SCAQMD governing board.  This was the crux of what I said–

The staff and board of the SCAQMD disagreed and insisted that more powerplants were needed or the lights were going out in the south coast air basin–which is all of Orange county and most of Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.

We sued.  The SCAQMD wrote in it’s 2007 brief:

The 2006 revisions to Rule 1309.1 [to allow powerplants to buy pollution credits from the District] were based on the District’s determination that electricity shortages are likely to continue based on increased power demand, retirement of older power plants, and certain limitations of the power grid that inhibit the transfer of power to southern California from northern California and Arizona.   Petitioners have not, and cannot, present any evidence to show that California has emerged from the ongoing energy crisis.

When the Court ruled in 2008 that the SCAQMD could not implement its pollution-causing scheme without adequate environmental review that actually discloses–instead of hides–the health and environment impacts of their decision, they were beside themselves–telling everyone who would listen that the lights were going out:

“What’s the responsible action?” asked Barry Wallerstein, the air district’s executive officer. “Should we wait until we have brownouts and blackouts to build new power plants? We need lights in our schools and power for our factories and electricity in our homes.”

Wallerstein said the region needs about 2,000 megawatts of new capacity, and that sufficient offsets are unavailable on the open market.

Well, here we are in the summer of 2010.  The SCAQMD still has not complied with the Court’s order to disclose the health and environmental impacts of adding tons and tons and tons and tons of new pollution to the air here.  The powerplants have not been built.  And the lights still have not gone out.  In fact–as we wrap up a series days of record-breaking temperatures here in the south coast air basin, we are awash in electricity.  The California Independent System Operator, the folks responsible for monitoring energy flows, showed our energy needs like this

Conserve-O-Meter

Presents the current level of conservation requested of consumers within the California ISO service area. As the Alerts, Warnings & Emergency (AWE) status increases, the need for conservation will rise. The ISO offers a list of Powerful Habits to help consumers conserve electricity at home and the office.

How’s that for evidence?

The responsible action is to meet our energy needs with clean renewable energy that doesn’t kill people and the plant like relying upon fossil fuel does.  The responsible action is not to change the law to ensure that more pollution is pumped into the air here.

We should not wait until we have brownouts and blackouts to build new powerplants.  We should act now to ensure that we meet our energy needs using the responsible tools of efficiency, conservation, and clean renewable energy.

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Because clean air matters

Well, I blogged before about the case we filed challenging the law sponsored by the South Coast Air Quality Management and a second law supported by the District that threw out the ruling we obtained from the Superior Court that found that the District had violated the environmental law when it adopted some rules that would allow them to add a BUNCH of new pollution to the air and ensure the construction of more fossil fuel power plants in the south coast air basin.

Hey, why stop adding pollution to the air now, its already among the the most filthy in the country.

Anyway, the judge in the case we brought challenging the District’s actions found that the law that the District wrote, and spend a bunch of resources lobbying for, didn’t violate the Constitution.  We also lost on our claim that, if the law was Constitutional,  the District failed to follow the requirements of the law.  I know, bummer.

So say “good bye” to the law that says that the District has to disclose the health and environmental impacts of their rule changes that add tons and tons of new pollution to the air;  and say “hello” to a bunch of new pollution!  The District has kicked into over-drive to get all the pollution permits out the door as fast as possible.

On August 17, we appealed the judge’s ruling.  We believe that the Appeals Court will agree that the law is on our side.

Too bad the District will have already allowed tons, and tons, and tons, of new air pollution to be released into the air.

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