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By Patrick Range McDonald
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“We don’t think it’s a good message to send that we have 17 years to reach the target,” said Sam Atwood, spokesman for the Aqmd. “Because 2010 was just around the corner, it really helped to keep everyone focused on the goals.”
Governor Schwarzenegger, in contrast, stuck with the previous target: cutting smog in half by 2010. That’s also been the mark for the AQMD and the state Air Resources Board. Schwarzenegger’s strategy includes finding permanent funding for incentive programs that get rid of high-polluting older vehicles. Industry likes this approach, though there’s been resistance whenever a particular entity is proposed to pay the cost.
Though hopeful of support from Schwar-zenegger, the AQMD is prepared to lift itself off the floor and don gloves for another round of legal sparring.
“We think there still is a window left open to leave in place our fleet rules, especially our rules for fleets owned by public agencies,” said the AQMD’s Atwood.
For one thing, the court signaled that a publicly owned fleet might fall outside its analysis. And most vehicles governed by the rules are in public fleets, such as transit buses owned by cities or transit agencies. And, added Atwood, the rules might still apply for privately owned fleets that do public work, such as a garbage hauler that contracts with a city. Said Atwood: “We think it’s possible that all fleets” will continue to fall under the rules.
So it’s back to court in the near future, with all rules remaining in force until then.
Industry, too, is prepared to rejoin the litigation. Diesel proponents have accepted a mandate to get cleaner, but also want one consistent standard, said Engine Manufacturers spokesman Joe Suchecki, “so we can build one engine that can be sold all over the world.”
Clean diesel offers an excellent combination of smog reduction and economic efficiency, said Anita Mangels, spokesperson for the Sacramento-based Western States Petroleum Association.
But critics contend that diesel’s best just isn’t yet good enough. Diesel engines are responsible for about 70 percent of the total cancer risk from air pollution in Southern California, according to research cited by the AQMD. Overall, Southern California’s air quality has improved substantially in recent decades, but it’s still the nation’s most unhealthful, and air quality may be declining.
The tough AQMD rules instilled needed incentives to get manufacturers to improve their product, said Gail Ruderman Feuer, lead counsel for environmental groups that sided with the AQMD. Other allies included assorted cities, counties and 16 states, California among them. California’s involvement has been managed by the office of state Attorney General Bill Lockyer during both the Davis and Schwar-zenegger administrations.
The fleet rules, adopted in 2000 and 2001, have made a difference. Sixty percent of the region’s transit buses now run on clean fuel. Fleet operators have purchased more than 5,500 clean-fuel heavy-duty vehicles and 3,400 low-emission passenger vehicles. In many instances, state funding has offset the cost difference between, say, natural-gas vehicles and diesel.
Achieving substantially cleaner air, however, will require both state and federal intervention, given that the AQMD has no regulatory authority over the sources of about 80 percent of the region’s smog. This, once again, is where Schwarzenegger and Bush enter the picture.
“This governor has been willing to take a stand different from the Bush administration,” said Ruderman Feuer. “This is precisely the kind of issue where the governor should take a stand to protect the people of California.”
Said the Sierra Club’s Magavern: “The federal government is a big part of the problem. Which is why we need to defeat Bush. And it’s also why Arnold Schwarzenegger needs to go to bat for us in Washington.”