The Los Angeles Superior Court issued a ruling against the South Coast Air Quality Management District for making last-minute changes to NOx RECLAIM, the district’s controversial air pollution program. In the decision, the Court finds that the air district violated California law back in December 2015 when they rejected staff-proposed reforms to the program and instead adopted a far weaker oil industry-backed measure just hours after it was made public. At the time, this decision was widely criticized as a dangerous industry giveaway that allows the region’s biggest polluters to continue spewing dangerous emissions and delay installing life-saving pollution controls.
This ruling will make it harder for industry lobbyists to push through last-minute changes to weaken regulations, as it makes it clear that under California’s Health and Safety Code and the Air District’s own administrative rules, the Air District cannot make substantive changes to its programs without letting the public know.
The case was filed in March 2016 by Earthjustice on behalf of Communities for a Better Environment, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.
Statements from the plaintiffs and their legal counsel:
Center for Biological Diversity Attorney Maya Golden-Krasner: “This is a stern warning to air regulators not to cut backroom deals that let the oil industry continue polluting our most vulnerable communities. People in Los Angeles desperately need cleaner air, and the air district needs to put the health of kids with asthma ahead of corporate profits.”
Communities for a Better Environment Community Organizer Alicia Rivera: “The community that has been harmed the most by pollution trading—LA’s low-income communities of color—are most in need of real public notice and a chance to support ending trading as soon as we can!”
Earthjustice Attorney Adrian Martinez: “It’s our hope that today’s ruling will prevent the undue influence on the air regulating process by the oil industry and other powerful interests. Coming off one of the worst smog season in more than a decade, we need to make sure all procedural safeguards are zealously preserved to make sure large polluters cannot exert undue influence on our air regulators.”
Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Attorney David Pettit: “The people breathing some of the dirtiest air in the U.S. have a right to know what plans are being made and how it impacts their health. The court shut down a last-minute backroom deal with the oil industry, which violated the public process. This would have weakened the AQMD staff's recommendation and instead plugged in a made-up rule with no support and no real impact for the communities most affected.”
Sierra Club Los Angeles Lead Organizer Lizette Hernandez: “Air pollution is on the rise again and the impacts, whether it be asthma attacks, missed school, or much worse, are hurting low income communities of color worst of all. The Air District tried to run around the public process and ignored the overwhelming demands of the community to hold the oil industry accountable for their deadly pollution. We're glad to see this ruling and are calling on the District again to act with urgency and make these polluting refineries to clean up their pollution.”
Background on NOx RECLAIM:
As the regional polluting trading program, NOx RECLAIM was supposed to achieve emissions cuts equal to traditional pollution reduction programs. However, in practice, industry lobbied to keep pollution credits cheap so that they could continue evading pollution controls, despite the fact that technologies to curb emissions are already cost-effective and readily available.
In March 2017, the Air District voted to sunset the RECLAIM program as soon as possible and transition to a regulatory structure, which would finally require oil refineries and other heavy polluters to do their part to reduce emissions. While the staff is currently planning for the retirement of the program, decisions about how quickly the program will end and the order in which the broad array of facilities will exit the program are still being decided.