Air Board adopts strategy for 20% emissions reduction by 2020

mulitple-stacks2.jpgOn December 17, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District adopted a strategy to reduce refinery emissions by 20% by 2020, or as much as feasible. Over the course of 2015, agency staff will propose the specific rules needed to achieve that goal. BAAQMD directors, in turn, will consider and either approve or require modifications to the rules prior to their adoption.

The approved reduction strategy blends several approaches, ranging from one favored by industry ("no specific controls") to one developed through a community/worker collaboration that targets harmful pollutants (e.g., particulate matter, sulfur and nitrogen dioxides, volatile organic compounds, mercury). The reductions will result largely from the use of the best available control technologies, guided by cost-effectiveness. Clearly, the blended approach will leave plenty of room for equivocation and interpretation: What does “feasible” mean; how are the real costs of health impacts factored into calculations of “cost-effectiveness”?

Taken independently, none of the approaches scored high in its capacity to reduce green house gas emissions, a fact acknowledged by the staff’s own analysis. The staff maintains that GHG emission cuts will occur as “co-benefits” of measures taken to reduce other pollutants, and as a consequence of refineries’ compliance with AB32, California’s landmark global warming law. At the well-attended Board of Directors meeting, BAAQMD's Executive Director, Jack Broadbent asserted that imposing local GHG emission requirements could interfere with or duplicate state mandates. That claim remains to be confirmed, and may well be contested.

The adoption of this resolution is a significant achievement for environmental advocates.  But the the devil is in the details, and what remains to be done over the next year is much more than detail. The air board staff will develop specific rules aimed at achieving reductions across a spectrum of known pollutants. It will be the job of the board of directors, environmental groups and activists to analyze and, when necessary, challenge the proposed rules. To do that, we will need to stay informed and involved.