Several environmentalist lawsuits have been filed against AQMD in the past few years. The most significant is a legal challenge by a coalition of environmental groups to the most recent revised Air Quality Management Plan -- a smog-fighting blueprint so controversial that it still lacks full approval by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
A 1997 audit of the service-station program revealed a major flaunting of the law -- some 90 percent of gasoline-vapor-recovery programs were found to be out of compliance. Non-inspection wasn’t the only problem. That audit also revealed that much of the vapor-recovery equipment certified and approved by the California Air Resources Board just wasn‘t working out.
”Yes, there was a problem in Southern California with some of the equipment we certified,“ says CARB spokesman Hirsch. ”Most of the problems derived from faulty or improper installations.“
In June 1998, AQMD spokesman Bill Kelly admitted to the press that the service station self-policing ”honor system just wasn’t working“ and announced a stepped-up inspection-and-compliance crackdown. A yearly fee of $12 per nozzle was imposed on gas station operators to help finance the increased scrutiny. That fee rose to $24 this year.
The findings of the October 5 memo reveal that nearly a year and a half since the crackdown began, the excess-emissions problem is as severe as ever. Both AQMD and CARB officials, however, vow that the problem can and will be solved expeditiously. AQMD staff will be asking its governing board next March to tighten service station rules and to increase funding for inspection and enforcement. Early next year, the Air Resources Board will consider requiring on-site, computerized diagnostic systems that sound an alarm when vapor-recovery systems fall out of compliance.
But in his memo, AQMD supervisor Shaw wrote that the proposed four-year program was ”too little, too late“ and didn‘t cover a whole category of so-called ”balanced“ systems.
In the meantime, after more than two decades of attempts to block toxic emissions from gas stations, tons of pollutants continue to rise skyward.
And not just in Southern California. Environmentalists and air regulators alike confirm that similar leakage problems are plaguing the San Francisco Bay Area. ”There’s no doubt the AQMD is indeed working on this problem. Of this I have no doubt,“ says environmentalist Tim Carmichael. ”I also have no doubt that they still haven‘t figured out how to remedy the problem. That’s for sure.“