The Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District’s governing board this past Monday decided to send a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature requesting the suspension and/or repeal of AB32, the "Global Warming Solutions Act." This action was prompted by imminently conflicting federal and state regulations and the simple bad economic timing of implementing such a law now or in the near future. (Continued below.)
AB32 calls for California to cut its "greenhouse gas" emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 – a reduction of 30 percent – followed by an 80-percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2050.
The Mojave Desert AQMD, as an agency charged with and committed to improving air quality, raised some eyebrows as a result of the announcement of its soon-to-be-issued request, including those of KFI’s John and Ken, who interviewed me as a member of the district board on Thursday. (You can listen to the interview by clicking here.)
During the interview the top-rated radio duo, while sympathetic to my arguments, seemed surprised by the magnitude of some of the cumulative and counterproductive impacts that could result from AB32’s implementation.
For instance, in December 2009, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued an "Endangerment Finding" stating that "greenhouse gases threaten the public health and welfare of the American people." That’s the first step toward all kinds of possible regulations.
The federal government has also issued increasingly stringent and soon-to-be further-tightened regulations limiting ozone emissions. Yet some technologies to reduce ozone require that emissions be burned or heated. Using heat to reduce ozone means you emit greenhouse gases. To reduce ozone, you have to reduce oxides of nitrogen (NOx). But reducing NOx can increase methane in the atmosphere, and methane is 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
So which is the priority – greenhouse gases or smog, which actually damages our lungs?
Then there are specific, regressive impacts, with which John and Ken seemed to really sympathize. For example, in the Mojave air district, most of the pollution (including ozone and other components of smog) blows in from the L.A. basin and the San Joaquin Valley. It’s called "overwhelming transport." Because of this transported pollution, if we want to site a new business, we have to offset any pollution that it might generate, but we don’t have a lot of existing industries to provide such offsets by reducing their emissions.
We also have a huge commuter population in the High Desert of San Bernardino County in particular, because we only have half the jobs we need for our population. More than half of our workforce gets in its cars every day to go into the inland basins to work, which generates "mobile source" pollution from cars that far exceeds any "stationary" sources from industries in the desert.
(As a side note, one thing we do have a lot of is dirt roads, but if SB 375 -another global warming law that puts the state in charge of local land-use policy – gets its way, our lack of mass transit and dense urban development will cause road and highway dollars to be withheld as punishment. This will not stop so-called "urban sprawl;" but it will result in less paved roads proportionate to the population and more resulting dust particulate pollution, which is a serious health hazard to desert residents.)
The point of all of this is pretty clear: We need to grow jobs and reduce commuter miles driven in order to really reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as harmful pollutants.
I like to think that John and Ken’s efforts to bring attention to these issues will expose a heck of a lot of people for the first time to what their runaway government is doing. But the reality of the situation is that, if other local air districts and local governments – including transportation commissions/councils of governments and city councils – don’t follow suit, then unheard will go the concerns of those who will be forced to chase jobs from their communities as the AB32 juggernaut is unleashed by the California Air Resources Board.
Toward that end, in addition to writing the Governor and Legislature seeking regulatory realism in light of the economy (unemployment in my district is at 16.6%), I will be encouraging every city and county in Southern California to do the same.
As MDAQMD Executive Director Eldon Heaston said last week, a regulatory "train wreck" could be in the offing if greenhouse gas rules promulgated by CARB are piled on top of other new, more stringent air quality regulations being adopted by the federal EPA.
Heaston pointed out that California has made great progress in the effort to clean the air and those improvements continue, but he warned the new regulatory regime could cripple economic growth even as the air continues to improve. "We can’t have clean, green cities unless we can site jobs in those cities," Heaston said.
The MDAQMD prides itself on implementing federal and state air quality laws and regulations in a way that doesn’t stifle jobs and economic development. It is not a "rogue" air district. In fact, it helped ensure a nearly 20 percent air quality improvement in 2009, with 58 days exceeding federal standards in 2009, compared to 72 days in 2008. The South Coast AQMD, which is not known for being job-friendly, had 113 days exceeding standards.
The Mojave district’s board is made up of elected officials – Republicans and Democrats – from throughout the Mojave Desert in both Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, from Blythe to Needles to Barstow to Hesperia. The decision to make the request of the state was sponsored by Victorville Councilman Mike Rothschild, who has been on the board since its creation in 1991.
And as much as some of us would like it to, the MDAQMD is not taking a position on global warming. It is simply asking for more implementation time and consideration of conflicting regulations, and some recognition of the worst economy since the Great Depression.
Economists and environmentalists alike should be able to agree that if greenhouse gas emissions are to be addressed, they should be addressed at the federal and international level. This is because, rather than having the desired effect of reducing pollution, the cumulative effects of California’s unilateral AB32 regulations will likely drive businesses like the cement industry to other states or countries with less stringent rules. (Still, to give credit where it’s due, check out this industry site to get an idea of how hard California employers are trying to find ways to comply with AB32 and avoid leaving the state.)
When businesses do eventually give up and are driven to another state or country, the regulators who drove them out will have negated any global benefits while exposing our residents to severe economic consequences. This would represent a colossal failure of leadership with roots in the halls of the Legislature and the office of the Governor.
Therefore the Legislature needs to pass AB 118, by Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Marysville, or a similar measure, and the Governor should enact emergency measures that would similarly suspend AB32 implementation at least until such time as the employment level in California reaches a stable 5.5 percent. That would be a good start.
Protecting jobs while ensuring air quality is not a partisan concept. And these are not mutually exclusive goals. The Governor and the Legislature should listen to the concerns of local governments and employers and not dismiss them as partisan or environmentally insensitive.
The key will be whether or not enough local governments make their voices heard about how onerous and unrealistic these regulations are to our local communities and employers. If enough of us do, Sacramento will have to take notice. For all of our sakes, let’s hope it happens.