Southern California Will Seek Authority From EPA to Reduce Air Emissions By 55% By 2031

Fri Jan 27th, On Environmental Law, by

The 2016 Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP) is a regional blueprint by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) for achieving federal health-based air quality standards for ground-level ozone and fine particulates.  The 2016 AQMP seeks to achieve multiple goals in partnership with other entities promoting reductions in greenhouse gases and toxic risk, as well as efficiencies in energy use, transportation, and goods movement.  The AQMP focuses on transportation corridors and goods movement facilities to reduce emissions from mobile sources, which is the most significant contributor to Southern California’s air quality challenges.  It also proposes significant reductions in NOx emissions from stationary sources.

Southern California is uniquely situated between the Pacific Ocean and mountains with persistent high-pressure weather patterns that help form ozone and fine particulates in the air that residents breathe. The conditions are exacerbated by low inversion heights and stagnated air conditions trapping the pollutants in the basin near ground level. There are approximately 17 million residents in the basin with over 11 million vehicles.

Clean Air Act Standards

The federal Clean Air Act (CAA) requires areas not attaining the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) to develop and implement an emission reduction strategy that will bring the area into attainment in a timely manner. The SCAQMD is closely engaged with the California Air Resources (CARB) and the U.S. EPA who have primary responsibility for air emissions sources. The 2016 AQMP includes integrated strategies and measures to meet NAQQS.

Five NAAQS are being evaluated in the 2016 AQMP. Three standards – the 8-hour ozone NAAQS established in 2008 (2008 8-hour Ozone), the annual PM2.5 NAAQS established in 2012 (2012 annual PM2.5), and the 24-hour PM2.5 NAAQS established in 2006 (2006 24-hour PM2.5) are required to have new attainment demonstration in the AQMP. However, given the overlaps in emissions and control strategies for other yet-to-be-attained NAAQS, the integrated AQMP will also include revisions to the attainment demonstrations for two other standards: the 1997 8-hour ozone NAAQS and the 1979 1-hour ozone NAAQS.

Key Challenges Identified

Key challenges identified in the 2016 AQMP are related to the significant reductions necessary for NOx emissions to demonstrate attainment. Relative to a baseline of projected emissions with no additional controls, by 2022, the south coast basin must achieve 17% reduction, by 2023 the reduction must be 43%, and by 2031 the reduction must be 55%. The NOx control strategy includes stationary source measures, with heavy focus on incentives, funded at approximately $1 billion per year over the next 15 years. The approach of the AQMP includes:

  • Eliminating reliance on the “black box” (Section 182(e)(5) of the Clean Air Act
  • Fair share emission reduction strategy with commitments at federal, state and local levels, providing California the authority to enact additional controls on sources traditionally under the jurisdiction of the federal government
  • Incentivize early deployment of zero and near-zero technologies in the mobile source sector
  • Develop efficient and cost-effective strategies to achieve multi-pollutant and multi-deadline targets
  • Prioritize “win-win” strategies that contribute to the economic vitality of the region and the needs of the public and businesses.

The draft 2016 AQMP was released in June 2016. Subsequently, public workshops and hearings were conducted and a CEQA Draft EIR was released in the summer of 2016.  In December 2016, the SCAQMD Governing Board adopted the 2016 AQMP.  Now the AQMP is calendared for approval by CARB this January and will then be submitted to EPA for approval.  The comment period is closed.

Failure to have an approved pan to meet the federal air quality standards within the required timeframe would result in sanctions from the federal government.

Timing and Potential Impacts to Businesses in Southern California

The 2016 AQMP will significantly impact businesses in Southern California that are considered stationary sources of air emissions. More than likely stationary sources will be required to add costly emission control devices to reduce NOx emissions at an accelerated rate. In addition, the automotive industry will be impacted by the AQMP mobile source goals.

There is still a hurdle for CARB before it can implement the AQMP – it must have EPA’s approval. There could be a significant delay, and possibly pushback from the new administration against California’s request for jurisdiction that would normally fall within EPA’s responsibility. EPA’s prior cooperative federalism approach to California’s air quality program may not continue under President Trump.

Our California environmental regulatory lawyers will be monitoring the 2016 AQMP and CARB’s efforts and will post additional blogs as more information becomes available.

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