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Sweeping reform of Bay Area air quality standards approved

September 15, 2010
By Victoria Schlesinger

Cartoon illustration courtesy of "Karry" Julio Angel Carrion Cueva.

After two years of wrangling, the public agency charged with controlling air pollution in the Bay Area approved comprehensive new regulations today in an effort to comply with state and national air quality standards.

The Bay Area has struggled for years to meet acceptable air pollution thresholds. Despite this year’s cool weather, which mitigates the creation of smog, the Bay Area has already exceeded national standards on four occasions, and state standards a total of eight times. Last year state standards were exceeded 24 times.

Although when looking statewide, that number of exceedances is chump change compared to Los Angeles’ 233 or San Joaquin Valley’s 204 days of missed compliance. Nonetheless, the Bay Area is required to craft improvements to existing regulations, which the 22-member Bay Area Air Quality Management District board did with gusto.

It approved the new and more than 500-page Bay Area 2010 Clean Air Plan with 19 in favor and one abstention by director David Hudson, a San Ramon city council member. The board also unanimously approved the Clean Air Plan’s final Environmental Impact Report.

The first of its kind, the Plan updates and vastly expands upon the Bay Area 2005 Ozone Strategy, which under the California Clean Air Act requires the region to implement “all feasible measures” to reduce ozone, also known as smog.

Going well beyond the reduction of ozone, the new Plan includes controls for multiple air pollutants including particulate matter, which is considered the most lethal form of air contamination in the area. It also aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Plan examines the cost of heath and social problems associated with air pollution and estimates that thanks to efforts to reduce pollution, there has been a 50 percent reduction over the last several decades, cutting annual costs from roughly $50 billion to $24 billion per year.

The BAAQMD wrote that it hopes the new plan will further those financial savings. “The estimated value of these benefits—including reduced medical costs, increased life expectancy, energy savings and state and federal transportation investments—is
on the order of $3 billion per year.”

While the Plan implements 55 new measures to reduce pollution from local industrial and commercial sources, cars and homes, it does not target interstate emitters, a point of contention for Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty.

“We’re really trying to shake things up, everything we possibly can. We’re even down to chicken being cooked in a wok in cooking oil,” Haggerty said to the board. “What struck me is the lack of our ability to take on the Federal government.”

He added, “There should at least be, as weak as this sounds, some sort of further study measure that basically says we’re going to work with our Federal representatives to reduce emissions for airports and interstate locomotives. We turn our head on that.”

Regulating interstate pollution sources through regional policy is problematic, but Jack Broadbent, executive officer for Bay Area Air Quality Management District, agreed with Haggerty’s assessment and to investigate the matter further.

To follow daily Bay Area air quality conditions, BAAQMD posts weekly forecasts here.

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