Polluter-driven takeover of CA air quality board & illegal rules provoke powerful backlash

Air pollution kills thousands of people every year in California’s South Coast Air Basin, including an estimated 4,300 who die of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiopulmonary causes.

That didn’t deter allies of a group of polluters, the Western States Petroleum Association, from launching a hostile takeover of the board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), granting approval for polluter-written rules that violate the Clean Air Act and threaten the health of Californians, and firing long time executive officer Barry Wallerstein.

The reaction from Moving Forward Network members and others was anger and outrage at the human toll this would cause:

“Today when you make that decision, know that your names will be etched on the lungs of our community members,” Sylvia Betancourt, Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma

“The South Coast Air Quality Management District has made major gains and we will not accept any manipulation…The protection and care of the environment are rights granted under state and federal law. Private industry has no right under state and federal law to violate public safety and welfare.”, Jesse Marquez, Coalition for a Safe Environment

“Dr. Wallerstein’s leadership and vision have helped to improve air quality and health for millions of residents…But we still do not have healthy air to breathe in the Southland, and the job is not done.”, Andrea Hricko, USC professor of preventative clinical medicine, reading a letter supporting Wallerstein on behalf of 19 scientists who study health effects of air pollution.

The California Air Resources Board said the new rules don’t meet state or Federal law. The EPA declared the new rules illegal, and State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León announced plans to add a public health expert and two environmental justice members to the board.

Last but not least, moving Forward Network members Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of Communities for a Better Environment, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club.

For an excellent history and analysis of the situation, check out:

Polluters’ Coup Takes Over Air Control Agency, Random Lengths (March 17)

To dig deeper:

U.S. EPA Rules South Coast AQMD Actions Illegal, News Release (March 16)

ENVIRONMENT: EPA rejects AQMD clean-up plan, Press Enterprise (March 16)

How the refineries came to own our air pollution regulators, LA Times (March 11)

Lawsuit Challenges Air Board’s Failure to Protect Southern California from Oil Refinery Pollution, Earthjustice (March 9)

AQMD’s weaker new smog rules under attack from state and environmentalists, KPCC (March 9)

Southern California air quality board is sued over adoption of industry-friendly smog rules, LA Times (March 9)

Power grab topples another defender of California’s environment, LA times (March 4)


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